Sunday, June 17, 2018

Memories Of Kenya, A Life Changing Journey

While I have not blogged in about a month, I wanted to jot down some memories of our Kenyan adventures, while they were still fresh in my mind. We began our adventure in April with a five day safari and game drive that was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience. With out trusty guide we explored Tsalvo (savo) East and Amboseli National Parks along with Taita Hills Game Reserve. Our days began early with morning safari's, followed by lunch in our lodges and afternoon game drives at sunset.

During our stay at Zuwani Voyager Tented Hotel we were given the opportunity to do a safari on foot with the protection of a Masaai Warrior. I was a bit uneasy as there was a lake filled with 66 dangerous hippos on the property. Chameleon, the warrior assured us that before the hippos would attack they would give subtle hints that he understood, so we need not worry while under his care. He introduced us to the "brush tree" that Kenyans use as a natural toothbrush along with other medicinal plants used by the locals.

In order for a Masaai man to become a warrior, he must undergo several rituals to prove to the tribe that he can endure pain. Since Chameleon was the first born son in his family, he wanted to do his family proud by achieving warrior status. During adolescence he had to endure a circumcision without the use of ANY anesthesia in order to prove himself. If he so much as flinched, he would have caused disgrace to his family and become an outcast. He also endured burns, had several of his bottom teeth pulled out, again with no pain medication, had a hole in his ear that he stuck a thorn through, just to name a few feats of valor.

Masaai warriors are striking tall men, dressed in traditional garb, with layers of red fabric draped over them, and some wear beads and other accessories.  Masaai men are allowed to have as many wives as they can feed, so I asked Chameleon how many wives he had?  He explained that he was a poor man with only one wife, because she was expensive. Jokingly I added that I was expensive too. Then he asked Clyde, "so how many cows did you have to trade to get her?" Cows are used like money in Masaai villages in exchange for goods and even women.

A few days later we had the chance to tour a Massai village having NO idea how much this would effect us. We were welcomed into the village by our guide, a young Massai man who would show us around. We followed him through fields of mud mixed with cow poop, since animals are very much a way of life to the Masaai people. Most of the tribe were barefoot, as they performed traditional songs and dances for our entertainment. Next a few men demonstrated how they make fire from rubbing sticks together, and so far all was good.

Then we followed a teacher who welcomed us into his house, for a memorable peek into their life. The small huts were built by the women of the tribe who layered sticks and cow dung together to form a dome shape. Once finished the hut was allowed to dry for a certain period of  time for the bricks to harden and lose their smell.

The door into the house was so narrow I had to squeeze in and crouch over since even I couldn't not stand up in the house. Inside were two rooms, each had a cow hide stretched out as a bed. Nearby the children's bed was a pile of rocks and sticks that were used as a stove for cooking. There were NO windows inside the dark, little house except for one tiny one above the fire pit. The Masaai believe that the smoke staying in the house is medicinal, and they embrace it. I was  told to sit on the hard, cow hide bed while Clyde sat on top of an overturned plastic bucket. There was NOTHING else inside the house other than the plastic buckets and the beds.

Finally we followed the teacher into the school house, that he proudly raved about having as a new addition to the village. The tiny wooden building was filled with 20 or 30 boys girls The ages of the boys ranged from maybe 2 years old and up. A toddler walked out into the middle of the room wearing a tiny shirt and NO pants. He grabbed at his tiny pee pee, playing with it like boys do and I really expected that he was going to pee right there. Our guide mentioned that it was his son and I asked, "so where are his pants?"

The teacher instructed the boys to sing the A,B,C's in English to impress us. The whole experience in the school house for me was disturbing. Did they not realize the germs they were spreading from one boy to another as the toddlers crawled up into the laps of the older boys wearing no pants? The urine and fecal matter, cow poop all over their feet, dirt and more?

The Masaai people are nomads, living in one place for up to five years before moving on. They live with their animals, having no fear even from dangerous animals like hippos, buffalo and lions. They sleep out in the bush with the animals. Since they are poor their babies have NO diapers and therefore run around pant-less, even in school.

By the time we climbed back into our safari van Clyde and I both felt numb, and disturbed from our experience in the Masaai village. My sneakers were covered in mud and cow poop and I literally wanted to take them off and burn them. I could NOT sit in these shoes for the ride to our next stop as I would have spread crap over the inside of the van. Clyde was gracious enough to take my shoes outside and clean them off in tall grass, before I washed them with disinfecting wipes that I carried in my purse. Then he cleaned his own shoes and we were able to continue on our way.

We found it hard to believe that in today's modern world there are still people that choose to live the primitive way of the Masaai. For many decades the Kenyan government has tried to get them to change their ways, but they flatly refuse. Although Clyde and I are well traveled and have seen other indigenous tribes in other countries, this experience effected us like no other. We cannot unsee what we saw in the village that day, as much as we might hope to.

Soon after that another traveling friend mentioned on social media that she read a book called, "The White Masaai," about a Swiss woman who married a Masaai warrior. Immediately I downloaded the book and read it from cover to cover. It was exactly the same thing that we witnessed in the village that day. Hard to imagine a love so strong that a modern woman would want to live such a primitive lifestyle. An amazing story of love, adventure and willingness to adapt, as long as she could take it.

Next we headed to more modern Kenya, as we landed at our house sit home in the town of Mtwapa.
The town itself is poor, with dusty, dirt roads, tiny shacks, motorcycle and tuk tuk taxi's and public buses. The house was massive and sat overlooking the large creek below. Once inside the acre plot of land it was a different world from the outside. Tall palm trees and tropical plants and flowers framed the spacious swimming pool. The house was once a bed and breakfast and boasted some six bedrooms, a full sized apartment in additional to the other living spaces and plenty of outdoor terraces to relax on. Unfortunately the once majestic, grand old house had been let go and was run down. My biggest disappointment is that even though we were in Kenya, Africa where mosquitoes carried deadly diseases, there were absolutely NO screens in the house. Even the windows that were there did not seal and many were even missing the glass. There was NO protection against the mosquitoes and other bugs outside.

House sitting is a gamble and we never really know what we are walking into. When I asked the European homeowner about screens she said, "why do you need screens? You have mosquito netting on the bed and if that is not enough, use insect repellent."

For the next month our days were spent lounging around outside, watching the huge packs of monkeys entertain us.  I enjoyed exercising and swimming in the large pool, while Clyde kept it clean. A gardener came by on a regular basis to keep the garden trimmed and tidy.

We paid for cheap tuk tuk's or Uber taxi's to get us around town and to and from the grocery stores and shopping malls. Food was cheap but basic in the stores and after a few weeks we longed for Mexican food so much, that we began making tortillas from scratch.  Later on in nearby Mombasa we stopped for lunch in a mall and were delighted to find a section of Tex-Mex specialties on the menu.

Because Kenya sits on the equator days were short and darkness fell by 6:30pm every night. To avoid the mosquito bites we snuggled up in our king sized bed under the mosquito netting every night and watched movies on our laptop.

They say that travel takes away one's prejudice and this was never more evident that with our time in Kenya. Literally we really did NOT see the Kenyan people as black in color, but instead we were welcomed by warm, friendly people that all spoke decent English. Despite Kenya being a poor country where the basic salary is $150 per month, Kenyan children are taught English at a young age, along with their native tribal language and Swahili.

Our time in Kenya came to an end with a few days relaxing at an all inclusive resort on Mombasa's Indian Ocean. There we watched as more aggressive monkeys snatched food from other guests that sat poolside.

Checkout time was around noon but our flight out of Kenya was not until 11pm later that evening. The resort was helpful by providing luggage storage for the full day, and allowed us to hang out by the pool and keep our all inclusive status for food and drinks. When it came time to leave we were provided with a full-sized hotel room in which to shower and change clothes before heading out to the airport.

A long night of travel was in our future with a short flight from Mombasa to Nairobi followed by a five hour overnight stay in the airport. We splurged on an airport lounge and paid $35 per person for a nice place to catch a few winks. But a few young ladies talked loudly all night long making it impossible to sleep, even with earplugs and noise cancelling headphones in use.

Our next flight was from Nairobi to Cairo, Egypt where we caught out last short flight to the city of Hurghada, Egypt near the Red Sea. We were supposed to retrieve our luggage in Cairo and send it through to be rechecked to our final destination. My two bags however, were NOT there! Since we are nomads EVERYTHING that I own was in those TWO suitcases. Fortunately for me before leaving the resort in Mombasa the last thing I took off was my bathing suit, wrap and flip flops which I put into my backpack that I kept with me. At least upon arrival at a resort in Hurghada I had a swim suit, flip flops and coverup to wear but nothing else.

It took Egypt Airlines one week to locate my one suitcase which contained my basic summer wardrobe. The larger suitcase is still missing and contains our extra stock of medication and supplements, my expensive, packable, down jacket and rain gear, my contact lens solution that is not available here since I wear rigid gas permeable lens, and other expensive winter wear. Egypt Airlines has NOT answered our emails or phone calls, and I have been rather depressed about losing ALL that I own. But I need to keep reminding myself that it is only stuff, and we do have our health, and sense of adventure to continue our travels....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Show Of A Million Legs, Police, Monkeys And More....In Kenya

Our adventure of house sitting in Mtwapa, Kenya continues and it seems like there is never a dull moment here.

A few nights ago I was rudely awakened when I saw Clyde standing near the open window talking to someone outside. Strange, since the house we are caring for sits on a one acre piece of jungle, and is fully fenced, so there should be nobody out there. After taking out my earplugs and waking up fully I heard Clyde ask the stranger outside, "what are you doing on this property?" The male voice replied in English, "we have been looking around for while and have not seen any intruders on the property, so we called the police." WHAT? Police! Then I hear the man ask Clyde, "where is Mama?" Kenyans refer to ALL females as Mama and ALL males as Papa. Those are even the signs on the toilets here to differentiate between the two rooms.

Assuming that he's asking about the homeowner Clyde explains that we are friends with Ingrid and are taking care of her home while she is away on vacation. To this he adds, "my wife is sleeping here in bed."

The voice then says that they had to climb over the fence to get inside the property, and could Clyde come outside to open the gate? Clyde says it's dark and I cannot see you, please shine the light onto yourself so I can see who you are. The man does as asked and Clyde sees the figures of three, uniformed security guards standing outside in the pouring rain, and next to them was a police officer. Clyde then says ok and puts on a pair of shorts in order to go outside.

At this point I crawl out of the mosquito netting that is covering the king-sized bed like a huge tent, put on some clothes and begin to access the situation. Panic comes over me and I begin to think, "is this a setup?" "Who is really outside and what will they do with Clyde?' "Are they here to harm him, me or both of us?" Plenty of horrible scenarios go through my mind, since after all we ARE in Kenya, someone else's house, with only a verbal agreement that we are allowed to be here.

Clyde returns a few minutes later unharmed, just a bit moist from the midnight rain and I ask for a full explanation of what that was all about? Before the homeowner left she casually mentioned that there IS an alarm on the house that is wired to the security company. She said that she put it in for house sitters and casually pointed out a switch on the wall in the dining room. The switch looked exactly like ALL the other light switches in the entire house, and there are way too many. Some of the switches turn on lights in other parts of the large home, or outside, and seem to have no rhyme or reason at all. Apparently, when Clyde was turning off the lights before we went upstairs to bed, he hit the switch for the alarm, unbeknownst to him. Two hours later the security guards were standing outside yelling, "hello, hello," up to our window. There is another switch for the alarm in the bedroom, tucked safely behind the bed where we are not likely to touch it. The one in the dining room now has a pillow case hanging over it to signal to us, NOT to touch it!!!

Having lived in Panama we are used to power outages that were common but only lasted at most a few hours. Usually whenever the lights went out Clyde would call the electric company and tell them, making sure the problem was something that they knew about and not something that was just in our house.

The homeowner did warn us that the power does go out here, but assured us that it was never for THAT long. So a few days ago the electricity went out around 6am we think but never came back on until about 4am the following morning. Not sure if this was due to heavy rain storms in the area or was  this a scheduled maintenance outage?

Just googled power outages in Mtwapa and came upon the Kenya Power website with scheduled outages needed for updating equipment and maintenance to the system. Interesting, now we have a future date to put on our calendar of an all day outage next week.

Ever wonder what happens when a thick, gooey, millipede is put through a wash cycle? Not much actually, other than breaking apart and freaking out the washer woman. There are plenty of these thick, black and orange millipedes here and one made its way into the washing machine today.

Laundry by the way, in this environment with 100% humidity much of the time takes days to dry, if ever. Everything constantly feels damp and nasty. We only thought Panama was humid but here during the rainy season it is much worse!

And we know we are in Kenya when we wake up, look outside the window and see monkeys running amok and even one happy couple making babies. Yes, right there on the railing of our terrace were a family of three with baby in tow, while Mama and Papa were having some alone time, just them, lots of monkeys and two silly humans looking on. But the whole mating act was over so fast that we didn't even have time to pick up our cameras to snap a photo. Here are some of them.

Darkness, police, bugs and monkey porn all brought to you today from Mtwapa, Kenya.....along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ramblings From Kenya.....Our Eye-Opening Adventure Continues......

The tropical rains splashed outside our bedroom window in a melodic tune against the backdrop of strange animal sounds in the distance. It was around 7am as I made my way out of the large bedroom suite of our temporary home and headed down the stairs. Just then I heard a tapping type of sound coming from an upper part of the large home, almost as if someone else was in the house besides my sleeping husband and myself. As I opened the door and headed upstairs to the third level of the home I saw tiny little heads peeking at me from outside. A large pack of monkeys was scurrying about on the deck of the house, while others were peeking inside the opened windows that had no screens to keep them or anything else from coming inside.

We are in Kenya, Africa in the town of Mtwapa, for a one month house sit. The house is large, spreading out over three levels that include five spacious bedroom suites, a lovely living room, kitchen dining area and plenty of outdoor balcony space overlooking Mtwapa Creek. On the other side is a huge swimming pool and plenty of garden space with tropical plants and trees. Despite the fact that this is surely a luxury home by Kenyan standards since the owner is from Europe, there are NO screens in the windows. And when I asked about the drinking water she assured us that it would be fine for us to drink the local tap water, although she does not since she thinks it tastes bad.

Here we sit in the middle of a tropical rain forest with mosquitoes that carry dengue and yellow fever, malaria and other deadly diseases, yet this homeowner feels no need to have screens for protection against them. She has lived here happily for 30 years now, and is still alive and well and has not contracted any of these diseases, so perhaps us Americans worry too much?

When I mentioned that we would be taking antibiotics for anti-malaria protocol she said, "don't worry about malaria, I have had it two times and it's not any worse than having the flu. You just get some medication here at the pharmacy, stay in bed for a few days and it goes away. No problem."

In the nightstand near our bed are some old insect repellent plug in's left over from previous house sitters, so apparently other sitters had an issue with the lack of mosquito protection too. We have become accustomed to sleeping under mosquito netting and have used several different types since we have been in Kenya.

And now there is one more mosquito plug-in that we bought, thinking that anything might help? Actually the mosquitoes have not been too bad and we have only seen a few here and there, but we still want to avoid any bites.

When we were preparing for our trip to Kenya we decided that just maybe we should finally, after two years of full time travel look into some vaccinations like the one for yellow fever. The homeowner assured us that there is NO yellow fever here, but further research added another concern. After leaving Kenya in June we are headed to Egypt once again to repeat the same sit that we did last year in El Gouna. Apparently, the Egyptian government DOES think there is a risk of travelers coming into Egypt from Kenya, and Egypt requires that we show proof of having had a yellow fever vaccine.

When we were house sitting in Belgium, with the help of the homeowners daughter who called a few clinics to see where we could be vaccinated, we took care of  this matter. One day we woke up early and headed into Brussels to find a travel clinic inside of a hospital. There we met with a doctor, discussed our travel plans and at his suggestion we were vaccinated against yellow fever, typhoid and polio, along with a tetanus booster. He did agree that taking Doxycycline was a good preventative for malaria also. He did mention that the vaccine for typhoid will protect us only 60%, but that's better than nothing. Typhoid is contracted from eating or drinking contaminated water and food which we are trying hard to avoid. The only other thing the doctor at the clinic mentioned is that there is rabies here in Kenya, and said should we get bitten by a monkey or dog go directly to a hospital immediately.

Clyde and I feel that it is necessary for us to come out of our comfort zone in order to experience the things that we do when we travel.

No Screens On Those Windows So Monkeys CAN Get In, If They Choose To
During Our Safari The Lodges ALL Instructed Us To Close The Windows At Night Because The Baboons Would Come Into The Rooms And Make A Mess

The homeowners attitude, along with others we met in lodges that we used on our safari,  is use insect repellent, sleep under mosquito netting and everything will be alright. In other words, "Hakuna Matata," or "no worries." The locals use an inexpensive brand of ALL natural insect repellent called, "Ballet," that is manufactured in nearby Nairobi. It serves a dual purpose of preventing bites and aiding in sting relief should it be necessary.

This whole experience in Kenya has been quite an eye opener thus far, with so much more to come. While the Kenyan people are wonderfully friendly, helpful, and a delight to be around, they still are poor compared to North American standards. A typical minimum wage worker here, according to our safari driver, makes about 1800 shillings per month, which translates to about $180 US per month.

Although we have traveled extensively to many poor countries, Kenya to us is the poorest and dirtiest of them all. Most of the streets here are not paved, even the main roads are just a mess of mud when wet or dusty when dry.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in ones little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."  Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad 

A few months back we were talking to an old friend about our travels through Muslim countries. I made the comment that Muslims go to the mosque up to five times a day to pray and that I don't know ANY Christians that do that. His replay back was, "well those same Muslims after they pray five times go out and kill people." Does he really think that? It is people like him that need to get out and see the world and its people to rid himself of those prejudices and narrow-mindedness.

Travel has opened our minds and hearts to many types of people, with various colors of skin, different religions, different lifestyles and incomes. Perhaps I never realized just how much until we came to Kenya. Throughout my life I have met open-minded people that claim that they do not see a persons color, but instead just the person. I have to say that I never understood that concept until NOW. Really, I can honestly say that I do not see the Kenyan people as BLACK, just as wonderful people trying to get by and enjoy life. That for me has been a real eye opener. Growing up in metropolitan New Jersey, surrounded by many colors of skin, including blacks, I saw much prejudice back in those days that I never bought into. Perhaps, that has made me the open minded traveler that I am today?

Mtwapa is said to be the city that never sleeps, since the partying in the bars, restaurants and clubs goes on all night long. A few nights ago before the homeowner left she suggested a nearby restaurant for dinner. The open-air, second level tiny restaurant known for its German food featured a band playing soft rock and oldies that was really enjoyable. For dinner, Clyde and I both choose the same item of fish covered in a white sauce served with potatoes, for the low price of around $6. There really was enough to bring home and make another meal out of since the portions were so huge. A few days earlier we had varying fish dishes, mine was cooked in a creamy, white wine sauce while Clyde's was grilled with garlic and butter. Both meals were served with pan fried potatoes with onions, vegetables and cole slaw also for around $6. Very good food is served here for little money!

Our house sits on Mtwapa Creek, which to us looks more like a lazy river because of it's size. It feeds into the Indian Ocean for deep sea expeditions that begin here. Our gracious host even left a fishing pole for Clyde to use right outside our door since fishing from the jetty is also good she claims.

View Of Mtwapa Creek From One Of The Homes Balconies

Kenya is a multilingual country with more than 60 languages spoken here and English is one of them. It has been so refreshing to be able to chat with the locals in English and ask questions about their culture and country.

Like many poor countries, Kenya has its share of trash on the streets blowing around. To alleviate some of this the government banned the use of all plastic bags. That's right....NO plastic bags are allowed into Kenya.....period! They mentioned this on the plane a few times but I just did NOT understand HOW a country could survive without plastic? The ban has only been in effect for about six months so far, and while grocery bags are NOT permitted there is still some plastic in use here, but they are trying to get rid of it all. Stiff fines of up to $30,000 can be imposed on violators along with time in prison, for carrying plastic bags into the country. So if you suddenly don't hear from us you might want to post bail.

Outside of our oasis that surrounds this home are the real streets of Mtwapa that are dusty, muddy from the heavy rains, and full of poverty. Flushing toilets are NOT the norm for the locals here, as they have outhouses or community bathhouses in the towns. Whenever we stopped to pee with our safari driver I was always greeted with a "squat toilet," that many women I know from the US would NOT ever use. There was NO other choice but to use the hole in the ground, or to use my handy dandy directional device, similar to a funnel that allows women to pee standing upright. I did become very thankful for it!

I asked our guide Toya when we were on safari if he has had tourists refuse to use these? He smiled and said, "yes, and it's usually the American women that refuse." He explained that he would take people like that to bathrooms in tourist shops, instead of petrol stations,  since they were nicer as they were designed for tourists.  So of course I asked, "so why didn't you take us to places like that with real toilets?" He laughed and said, "well you are well traveled so I knew it would be alright."

Yes, The Struggle Is Real Ladies.....Squat Toilets Everywhere

Thankfully, we had great weather during our safari but since we have been at the house sit, it has not been so good. The rains have been heavy, and tropical making this extremely humid environment even wetter. But here we have no dogs to walk or any pets to look after, just a gardener who comes twice a week to oversee. Well, Clyde is outside guiding the young man as he works around the house, doing a variety of odd jobs while I am here sitting on my butt telling you about it. The monsoon like rains are beating down heavily and Clyde is covered in a plastic raincoat while I am inside dry and warm. But, like they say in Kenya, "Hakuna Matata," or no worries for me.....along the gringo trail.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Masai People.....A Peek Inside Their World.....

After our safari had finished we were offered a chance to take a tour of a traditional Masai Village. For the cost of $20 per person, we were greeted by our guide who would take us through a tour of his village. As we followed this young man through the muddy, reddish soil I tried to avoid stepping in cow poop that was everywhere. But I soon realized that the poop was mixed in with the soil, making it impossible to avoid getting it onto our shoes. Some of the Masai were barefoot while others wore tiny sandals, allowing the poop to squish between their toes.

                                                            Greeted By These Guys

                                                    Cows, Mud And Poop Everywhere

The Masai people are nomadic, laying down roots for only five years before moving on to another location. Their world revolves around their cows which they use for food and trade, just like money. Trading cows is used to buy wives, other animals, or to solve issues between friends.  They live in tiny homes made from cow dung, sticks and the roofs are made from elephant grass. The women are the only ones that can build these houses, using up to 20 women to build each one. The women keep their heads shaved since they find dealing with puffy hair too difficult in a hot climate.

Entertaining Us By Dancing

To welcome us some of the villagers danced and sang for us using a variety of yelling, chanting and jumping motions which were strange but interesting. Next they squatted down asking us to do the same, or just to bow our heads in prayer. Their prayer was for us that we should have a good safari and safe travels.

Continuing through the village we watched as five young men demonstrated how they could make fire from rubbing a stick to a piece of wood.

Showing Us How They Make Fire

Next, we met with a medicine man or tribe doctor who taught us about the medicinal trees that were used by the Masai. There were some to treat malaria, headaches and even to increase male potency, since the Masai men can have up to ten wives.

The Medicine Man

After that we were invited into the home of the community teacher, a tiny hut that he shares with his wife and two daughters. Wearing my purse over my waist I was barely able to squeeze through the narrow door that was made totally of dung. It was totally dark with no light except what came through a tiny window on one side. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness I was offered a hard seat on a cow hide that was used as a bed for two girls to share. Clyde sat on a plastic bucket that apparently served as a chair. Next to the girls bed was a cooking area made up of sticks, under the tiny window which was put in place so that the smoke could go out. He  went onto explain that they believed the smoke from the fire to be medicinal for them, so it was a good thing.

                                              Now We Are Invited Into One Of The Homes
                                        Cooking Area Next To The Bed Where I Am Sitting
                                                         Buckets For Furniture
                                           Bed Made From A Cowhide....Hard And Cold

                                                                      Get Me Out Of Here
                                                       Houses Made From Cow Dung

Eventually we were invited into the school house which was really a disturbing experience.  We were greeted with boys singing us a song and later singing the alphabet in English. Then a toddler, perhaps a one or two year old, walked into the middle of the room and I realized he was wearing NO pants and No shoes. His hand was near his penis that he kept touching, making me think he was about to pee in the middle of the room. The age range in the room was from toddler up to maybe eight or nine?

                                                              Village School For Boys

                                                    One Of The Boys With No Pants

All that I could think about was these little boys with no pants, spreading germs to the other boys whose laps they were sitting on. These kids walk in cow poop all day long, many of them wearing no shoes, no pants and probably peeing freely wherever they want.

Can We Get Out Of Here Now.....So I Can Burn My Shoes?

Clyde and I left there shocked, almost in a daze after seeing how they live. The best word to describe it for me was disturbing or disgusting. As we climbed back into our van I felt dirty and literally wanted to take off my shoes and burn them, because they were covered with poop. I asked our driver to stop somewhere so we could clean off our shoes, but Clyde had a better solution. We stopped on the side of the road and my dear husband Clyde stepped out of the car and cleaned off each of my shoes in the grass. Then I pulled out some sanitizing wipes and cleaned them off even further.

It was as if I needed to wash the experience out of my head and try to forget or unsee what was in my brain. Somethings are better left unseen, and perhaps this was one of them? Yes, this was a life changing experience that we hope to forget as we continue our adventures in Kenya......along the gringo trail.

On Safari In Kenya......Africa

For many years I have wanted to do a safari in Africa, to see wild animals in their natural habitat. But Africa is so far away, and the cost of a safari is pricey which made we wonder if it would ever be possible?

Then a few months back while browsing through house sits online I spotted an ad for a sit in Mtwapa, Kenya. Once again I looked up from my laptop over to dear Clyde and said, "how about a sit in Kenya?" Without even waiting for his reply I said, "well I will apply and see what happens. Perhaps, it's been filled already, so we shall see." To make a long story short we landed the sit and quickly began researching safari's in Kenya. After all with the house sit we would have a FREE place to stay for a little over FOUR weeks which would make paying for a safari more affordable. And since we would be flying to Kenya from our last house sit in Belgium, the flight time was only about 9 hours total.

We arrived in Mombasa International Airport and quickly met with James, the owner of Wildlife Sun Safari's. He introduced us to Mr. Toya who would be our driver for the five day safari that included Tsalvo East National Park, Taita Hills Animal Sanctuary, and Amboseli National Park. We climbed into the van that would be our home for the next five days as we began another amazing adventure!

Our Driver Toya And A Cooler Full Of Bottled Water

Soon after leaving the airport we began to see cows along the dusty roadside, tin shacks, hoards of people dressed in colorful clothing, street vendors and so much more that our senses were on overload. Wow.....even though we are seasoned travelers who have seen a lot, Kenya had already proved to be much more than we had expected. This country seemed far less poor than any others we have visited, yet the Kenyan people were happy, friendly and welcomed foreigners with open arms everywhere we went.

                                                        The City Of Mombasa, Kenya
                                                Notice The Medical Clinic In The Background

The Kenyans Use Those Yellow Jugs For Carrying Water To Their Homes

Traffic here is horrible, worse than anyplace else we have been. The two lane highway that runs from Mombasa to Nairobi is cluttered with trucks, cars, tourist vans and motorcycles all trying to pass each other. The dusty, unpaved roads are lined with vendors, shops, cows, goats and people. Clyde took a photo of a man in the street holding up a chicken to sell, still complete with its feathers, head, and legs for a price of 500 shillings, about $5 US.

This Man Was Not Happy That We Took His Photo But Did Not Buy His Chicken

The drive was long but eventually we made our way to our first stop for the night, The Voi Lodge near the entrance to Tsalvo (savo) East National Park where we would begin our safari. Upon entering uniformed staff smiled and welcomed us saying, "Jambo," which is the Kenyan way of saying hello.

We barely had time to relax a bit before we had to meet up with Toya for our first safari. He drove us to the entrance of the park where we were greeted with a vendor selling safari hats that we were suckered into buying. The top of the van was opened up so that we could stand up, with heads outside for the best animal viewing. Wow....was this going to be fun!

                                   Our Safari Van With Pop Up Roof For Animal Viewing
                                         This Van Was ALL Ours.....It Was A Private Tour

Slowly our van made it's way along the red, dirt road as we eagerly looked for animals. Toya is an expert at spotting them from afar since he has been driving tourists on safaris for over 18 years now. How thrilling it was the first time we saw enormous RED elephants roaming freely nearby. Because the dirt is red at Tsalvo East the elephants actually look red, since they enjoy showering themselves with dirt as a way to keep cool and prevent bugs from biting. Since the park has over 11,000 African elephants there were plenty to see.

                                             Reddish Colored Elephants In Tsalvo East

                                                    Even Their White Stripes Are Reddish

Just the first day alone we saw zebras, antelope of many types, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, just to name a few. We enjoyed lunch at the lodge and later went our for a late afternoon game drive again.

                                                         Plenty Of Baboons Everywhere

After a late dinner we crawled into bed knowing that we would be waking up at 5am, to meet with Toya for an early morning game drive before going to our next destination. Our home for the night Savona Salt Lick Lodge at Taita Hills Game Reserve. This place is amazing with round rooms that are up on stilts with animals roaming freely below. During our afternoon safari Toya heard from other drivers on the radio that they spotted lions, so we went looking. He spotted a male and female far away. This is mating season and the male was wooing the female, hoping to have his way with her but she seemed uninterested. Then another driver sent out a message about lions someone else and we went chasing after them. There we found a mom and two cubs hiding in the tall grass, and we stood and waited until they decided to pop out.

                                                                      Salt Lick Lodge
                                                      Wild Life Moves Freely Below Us

The next morning before heading out Toya decided to pass by the same area one more time to see if the lions were in plain sight. There were about ten vans lined up to catch a glimpse of the illusive beasts that were hiding in the grass. As soon as the vans began to pull away, suddenly not one but SIX lion heads popped up from the grass. Wow....what a sight to see! We left there after after a while to head out of the game reserve when I spotted a female walking down a side road in plain view. Toya turned the van around and proceeded to follow her while sending out a message to the other drivers nearby. We were really up close to this gal who had an injured leg and was limping a bit.

                                                        We Found Lions......OH My!

This experience was so cool, like a car chase through the African Savannah, at what felt like very high speeds over rough, bumpy and muddy terrain. These drivers are a bit crazy, doing their best to get the clients to the sights where the animals were seen as quickly as possible.  An exhilarating, adrenaline rush that brought never ending smiles to our faces!

Mean Looking Buffalo

From there we headed toward Tsalvo West National Park only to discover there was a bridge washed out due to heavy rains in that area.  Our driver stopped to ask a few people the best way to proceed to our next lodge. He ended up taking us through the President of Kenya's farm, but each and every road he tried to go down was flooded or washed out from the rains. After hours of four-wheeling it through wet roads, large mud puddles and floods with no where to stop and pee, we had enough. Finally Toya called the manager of the lodge to find out just how it would be possible to get us there safely? We did manage to get there, a place called Voyager Zuwani Tented Camp where we would spend the night.

                                                             Our Tented Hotel

                                                        Lake Full Of Dangerous Hippos

While I will admit that I did NOT want to stay in a tented hotel, fearing we would be eaten by deadly mosquitoes, the experience was great. The tent was large with a queen sized bed, furniture and a full bathroom with shower. Since it had no telephone it featured a WHISTLE to blow in case of emergency during the night. Really it did!

Nearby, in a lake was a gathering of 60 aggressive hippos that liked to roam the camp every night.  After dinner we were escorted back to our tent and told NOT to leave, otherwise the hippos might attack us. Yikes!

During our stay we took a Nature Walk with a Masai Warrior named Chamelon that was a real joy. Not every Masai man becomes a warrior, but those that do are honored by many. In order to become a warrior the Masai boy during adolesence must prove that he can endure pain. In order to do this he must undergo a circumcision, a fifteen minute procedure using NO anesthesia at all. Besides that he endures burns, pulling out of teeth, piercings, killing of animals, and other acts of bravery to be accepted as a warrior.

                                     Guide For Our Nature Walk, Chameleon, A Masai Warrior
                                           Making Us A Natural Toothbrush From A Tree

                                             He Put A Thorn Through A Hole In His Ear

While Masai men are allowed to have up to TEN wives, our friend Chameleon had just ONE. When asked why he said that she was too expensive, and being a poor man he could not afford any others. I added that I too was very expensive and Chameleon asked Clyde, "so how many cows did you have to trade for her?" He went onto explain that his one wife cost him ten cows, six goats, several liters of bee honey just to name a few. In the Masai world the more cows a man has the more wealth he has, since they are used in trade just like money.

During our nature walk we stopped by the lake to see the hippos that were in and around the lake. I asked Chameleon IF it was safe to be that close to them? He said, "no they are very aggressive and can attack at any time," to which I asked, then why are we here? Then he explained that they make a certain sound that he knows, it is used as a warning. If they would have made the sound we would have had to leave the area so that the hippos would not attack.

On our way back we spotted several crocodiles which Clyde took  few photos of. At one point we noticed tiny baby crocs and while Clyde was snapping photos Chameleon pointed out that Mama Croc was nearby just waiting to pounce on Clyde if he were to get any closer.

                                                       Baby Crocs Above With Mama Nearby

The next morning while having our breakfast and watching the hippos pop up their heads in the pond in front of us, we noticed a gorgeous view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The snow capped peaks glistened in the morning sunlight, a view not often seen since it is often clouded over.

As The Sky Clears We See A View Of Mount Kilamanjaro With Its Snow Caps

                                                      Hippos In Amboseli National Park

Our last night of lodging was spent near Amboseli National Park in the AA Amboseli Lodge. The next morning we did our last safari there, seeing elephants, zebras, hyenas, antelope, hippos and more. This was a truly amazing experience, seeing nature at its best. Perhaps someday we shall return to Kenya to do a safari in another park? Until then we have much more of Kenya to enjoy in the next month of house sitting.....along the gringo trail.