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 journey 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.

Going On Safari
A Great Company That We Highly Recommend
A Private Safari, So We Had The Whole Van To Ourselves Plus Our Guide

                                                              Let The Adventure Begin!

Here is a Video that we did

After our trip to Kenya

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.

A Tented Hotel, Our Room For The Night

A Walking Safari With A Masaai Warrior
Looking At Crocodiles

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.

A Thorn Through His Ear

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.
Terry and Chameleon 
They Really Dress Like This All The Time

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.

Our Massai Village Visit

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.

                                                Making Fire From Sticks Rubbing Together

Laundry Drying On The Bushes

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.

                                                            Homes Of The Massai

                                                                    Inside A Hut

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?"
A Toddler At School With NO 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?

                                                             Inside The School

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.

Our Warrior Guide In The Village

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 un-see 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 existence. 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 carry 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.

                                                     Across From Our House Sit Home
                                                                In Mtwapa, Kenya
                                         Colorfully Dressed Ladies Balance Things On Their Heads

Water Delivery For The Locals
We Bought Bottled Water

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."

Our Neighbors, Packs Of 50 Or More Monkeys Stopped By Several Times A Day

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.

                                      Our House Sit Home Overlooking Mtwapa Creek

The Lovely Garden And Pool

The house had plenty of quirks and before the homeowner left she casually mentioned having installed an alarm system that was connected to a security company. She added that she had this installed to help house sitters feel safe staying there. There was a switch in the kitchen that triggered the alarm and another behind the headboard of the bed that we were sleeping in. The switch looked exactly like ALL of the other light switches in the house, except for a tiny picture of a bell on it.

One night I went upstairs to get ready for bed before Clyde while he closed up the house and turned off the lights. Around midnight I awoke to see Clyde standing at the window talking to someone outside. "Why are you on this property,?" I heard Clyde ask. A male voice responded but I could not make out what he said. Next I heard Clyde ask him to shine a flashlight on himself so he could see who he was. Clyde told me that it was the security company since apparently someone in the house had set off the alarm. The man said they had been walking around the property for a while, did not see anything unusual, so they called the police. But because they had to climb over the gate to get onto the one-acre plot of land, they needed Clyde to open to the gate to let them out.

Clyde left the bedroom to go outside to let this man out. Suddenly horrible thoughts went through my head. Who was out there? Was this really the security company or someone else? Would they hurt Clyde? Was someone going to come into the house to kill or harm me? After all we were in Kenya staying in some strangers house, with no legal documentation that we were allowed to be there.

I was relieved a few minutes later when Clyde came back into the house and told me the rest of the story. There were three, uniformed security guards outside along with a police car outside of the gate. We figured that when Clyde was turning off the lights the night before, apparently he flipped the switch in the kitchen that called the security company. Thankfully all ended well, but it really made us realize that from now on when we house sit, we really need to have the homeowners sign something that says we have a right to be in their house.

The large house seemed to have a vibe of its own that included trying to kill dear Clyde. One day while he was lounging in an easy chair reading a book, a large picture, framed in glass fell off of the wall. Instinctively, he reached up just in time and managed to catch it by the corner, preventing it from hitting him on the head. He detoured the picture just enough so that it missed him but knocked over a glass nearby that was filled with water that he was drinking. The water spilled over onto the modem which shorted it out, knocking out the WIFI throughout the house. After cleaning up the mess he sent an email to the homeowner, assuming that she would never believe what happened. We needed to get her account number in order to call the internet company to fix the issue. The internet was still not on over a week later when homeowner returned, despite the fact that someone came out to the house to check out the problem. Fortunately for us, we did buy sim cards for our phones so at least had someway to communicate with the outside world.

A few weeks later Clyde was outside cleaning the pool as this was part of our responsibility as house sitters, since there were NO pets at this sit. When he was finished he came into he house and was chilling out reading a book when all of a sudden we heard a loud crash outside. I was upstairs and looked outside, thinking that a large palm frond had fallen. Was I ever shocked to see that a massive palm tree had fallen down and landed across the pool. Had this happened ten minutes earlier it may have fallen on Clyde and probably would have killed him. Amazingly enough, there was no damage done to the pool either.

Fallen Palm Tree

Kenya is the first country we have ever been to that has a ban on ALL plastic bags! What does this mean? It was mentioned a few times while we were flying into the country. We were told that plastic bags were not allowed into Kenya. I still did not understand? How could an entire country survive without the use of plastic? Even the homeowner mentioned this in an email prior to the sit, but still I didn't get it.

                                             Sights Around Mtwapa And Mombasa, Kenya

Plastic bags are a MUST for me as a traveler and I might have 100 of them in my suitcases. Liquids are all put into plastic bags. Anything that needs to be kept clean is in plastic. I began to panic! What will happen IF they find the bags in our luggage? Will they take them, fine us or arrest us? I even discussed this with our safari guide who said they are imposing fines up to $18,000 for people still using plastic bags. Yikes! I lost sleep at night over this issue.

I was anxious to get inside of a grocery store to see what they used IF there was no plastic bags in use? Kenya still does use plastic for wrapping up meats, and plastic is still used for products. What they do not use are grocery bags or bags to put produce in. Produce is put into stretchy, mesh bags or lightweight fabric bags. While we are very used to stores NOT using grocery bags, and we have become accustomed to bringing our own reusable bags, this ban on plastic confused me until I began to understand. Trash bags are not permitted for garbage either, and waste is just thrown into plastic cans and picked up curbside.

In our 3 years of travel we had never bothered to get any vaccinations against any diseases. But knowing that Kenya was a poor, dirty country I began doing research. I was surprised to discover that Egypt required travelers to show proof of having had a yellow fever vaccine IF they were coming from Kenya. During our time in Belgium, prior to going to Kenya, we found a travel clinic and were vaccinated against yellow fever, typhoid and polio. And during the check in process out of Kenya we were asked to show our yellow fever card, and thankfully we had it.

Malaria is still an issue in Kenya and when we discussed this with the homeowner prior to the sit she admitted to having contracted malaria two times in the 30 years that she's lived there. She said, "malaria is no big deal, I have had it twice now. You just get some medication from the pharmacy here, stay in bed for a few days and it's just like having the flu." We opted to practice anti-malaria protocol by taking Doxycycline  prior to arrival in Kenya, during our stay and for an entire month after we left.

There were a few modern malls in nearby Mombasa that were great for shopping. We used cheap
tuk tuk's or Uber taxi's to get us around for just a few dollars. 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.  Then one day we stopped in a mall restaurant for lunch and were delighted to find a section of Tex-Mex specialties on the menu. They were cheap and tasty!

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.

The one word we heard the most while in Kenya was, "Jambo," which means, "hello." Everyone we met or just passed by on the streets shouted a jovial, "jambo" to us with a wave.  Later I discovered a song that was created when the band members saw tourists struggling to learn Swahili. It was cute and features a catchy tune that I sang to keep myself entertained while there. Here's the song done by a group called, "Them Mushrooms."

Kenya is the most poor, dirty country we have been to and our time there was really quite the experience. Most of the roads are dirt making them impassable during monsoon rains. And when its dry the roads are dusty, full of potholes, and trash. Walking into town from the house we passed buildings that appeared abandoned, yet people were living inside. The streets were cluttered with trash that packs of goats nibbled on. Walking was dangerous avoiding the holes, goat droppings, trash, street dogs, people and traffic.  You can't imagine the smells that permeated our nostrils as we walked through the streets, and these will stay with us forever.

Plenty Of Trash Everywhere, Yet They Say It Has Improved After The Plastic Bag Ban

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.

A Monkey Poses Next To The Do Not Feed The Animals Sign At A Resort

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 was returned 20 days later. It contained 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 items. Egypt Airlines was totally unresponsive to our emails or phone calls, and the whole ordeal was horrible for me. I had to keep reminding myself that it is only stuff, and we do have our health and each other.

We have since filed a claim with the airline, trying to recover some of the money we had to spend buying me basic clothing to wear. It's been 2 months so far and while we have heard from the airline, the claim is still in processing.

It was fun to see the luggage tags on my first bag that we dropped off in Kenya, and later took a  detour to Saudi Arabia, Guyana, and Colombia, before coming back to Cairo. The second bag showed only one luggage tag indicating that it had been sitting in Cairo Airport for the whole time. Flying is NOT the fun part of travel but something necessary that we all need to endure to get from point A to point B.

                                             Beautiful Sunsets Over Mtwapa Creek

Local Fisherman Working Hard

At least we still have our sense of adventure, desire to travel and willingness to put ourselves out there to the world.....along the gringo trail.

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