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.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...