A Travellerspoint blog

Journey to Kampala

sunny 26 °C

I'm gonna make this very long, 19 hour story as short as I can because I don't really want to relive it. How about a bullet point version? I'm ok with that.

- we waited in a dark smokey alley for our bus to come while guys dealt Khat (google it) through their stall windows.
- the guy we booked our tickets through said their bus was in an accident and so he found us a new one. Spidey senses start going off as early as 15 minutes into this "adventure".
- waited about half an hour to board and then after boarding waited 2 hours past supposed departure time to start moving.
- bus ran out of fuel 5 MINUTES into journey. We hadn't even passed our hotel yet. Conductor got out a jerry can and ran to a petrol station.
- Josh and I all the while contemplating whether to get off and suck up the $70 and try again the next morning.
- the driver doesn't understand slowing down for speed bumps and Josh and I are in the last seat of the bus, our luggage behind us in the seats that don't fold down. There are speed bumps THE ENTIRE highway. The whole highway. Every tiny town has about 6. No slowing down. We're gonna be sore tomorrow. We got air about 10 times, I had the wind knocked out of me twice. I yelled at the driver from the back seat once.
- the border was fairly seamless, the bus was searched. We departed at 7:15 am, only 45 minutes from scheduled arrival time. We had another 5 hours to go.

Side note - the sun came up after the border and we got some amazing views of the beginning of Uganda. It's so much more green here and jungly than Kenya, and we even crossed the Nile river! Some photos to break up this aggravating post:

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- we were stopped by two small army and police checks to do a small search of the vehicle and we were let go.
- we were stopped by a larger military search where our conductor was clearly not complying (all in Swahili) and the military gent was not happy with his pace or his unwillingness. He shoved him aside and did the search of the luggage behind us himself, all the while his giant fully automatic submachine gun was pointed into and jabbing at Josh's leg. Cool. I wasn't scared of the man but my heart was racing re: gun pointing at and pushing into husband for 3 minutes straight.
- we were transporting cargo (ie. not just passengers.. huge mistake.. never should have booked with this company.. live and learn!) so hence all the checks. At 4th check some packages were confiscated and we left without them. Like huge boxes of napkins. Why were we transporting napkins over the border??? Josh and I are convinced there were other things in those boxes and bags. Our conductor tried to bribe the military guy right in front of us and he pushed it aside. Clearly the napkins were important to him!
- I didn't pee in any of the stops because they were all holes in the ground. I regretted this when I didn't get to pee for over 17 hours. Pleading to the bus driver he finally stopped on the side of the road, broad day light, and offered for me to get out. I shouted, "on the side of the road?? NO" from the back seat. He then asked me to be patient and wait until we stopped "in a few minutes". An hour later I was able to pee into a hole. A guy then asked for money to use this hole (with no running water or hand sani or TP or a door that closed) and I resisted the urge to finger him and said, "I don't have any money!" And brushed away my tears.
- our final unannounced stop was to a customs office half an hour out of the way of the station to once again search the car. This only occurred because we were transporting cargo and not just passengers. This is where I finally peed. And through my tears we decided to cab the rest of the route. An hour later our very nice cab driver dropped us off at our hostel and I breathed a very large sigh of relief.

That trip takes the reputable companies 10-12 hours. It took us 19 and it would have been longer if we waited for the bus. I have written two strongly worded reviews and texted Johnnie, the guy who we booked through, several to-the-point text messages.

Our hostel is nice.. we were greeted by some sweet pups who are less taken care of then I would like them to be. Our front desk staff don't speak the best English, and when I asked them for help arranging a few things I got a lot of blank stares and a lot of broken English. So I tried to take matters into my own hands and book the few things I really wanted to get done, but nothing was coming together. Josh had a few beers (they're $1.40 Canadian each!) and I had one and it went straight to our heads. We couldn't help but have a quick nap and then we forced ourselves up to head out and get some food.

We're off the beaten path so our hotel suggested we get Boda Boda's. They are EVERYWHERE here, masses of them, it seems like everyone is in a bike gang. They said they don't trust them so they called the ones the hotel uses, they finally came and were very sweet and charged us next to nothing. We asked to be taken to a restaurant and a grocery store. Lots of blank stares. "You want food? What food?" We were delirious and tired and both couldn't make decisions. They talked about a mall 7km away, we said yes even though we wanted to stay close to the hotel. 25 minutes later we were at the mzungu mall, essentially. We were wide awake from the ride, it was super safe but man those guys can weave in and out of traffic. There is no way to describe it, they don't pay attention to street lines or rules or directions, we head up the wrong way through traffic all the time. But they sure get there faster than a car can! The traffic here is way more insane than Nairobi, in my opinion, and maybe 20 times more motorcycles.

We arranged for a pickup from our new friends and we quickly got some food into me. Including tip my hummus, pita and veggies was $6 and it hit the spot well. We then headed to a spot for Josh to get fish and chips, I ordered a coffee and sorbet, Josh had a Tusker and also ordered a cake for desert. Total cost at the second stop including tip was $30 Canadian. Cheap compared to what we were used to! And this was a fancy place with lots of foreigners.

Making our way back through the hills of Kampala we saw the Gaddafi mosque, the largest in Uganda. The views are stunning every direction you look since it's so hilly here, not like flat Nairobi. The whole afternoon I was wishing we never got on that bus and we cancelled the rest of our trip and just stayed in Nairobi and our comfortable, sweet hotel and we could visit the kids and friends and know where we are. But I guess this is travelling, and Josh said we've been incredibly lucky all trip and that I finally got the true African experience. Hakuna Matata. It means no worries, and it's a mantra you must live by to be sane here.

The views on the bike and the busy streets and the sunset on our way home made me realize, it's all good. And now sitting on the balcony of our hostel drinking really good red wine and getting emails about our plans coming together for the next few days, it's all worth it. So very thankful to have Josh next to me. I was in full out meltdown mode today, I cried on 5 separate occasions, and yet he's calm and he makes sure I'm fed and happy way before he meets his own needs. So thankful.

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City tour booked for tomorrow, and then a fun and relaxing few days booked for the weekend in Jinja, which is the city on the Nile. So excited and so happy to be here, finally.

Posted by kvandervegan 10:57 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

overcast 25 °C

After another great breakfast at Khweza we got picked up by Anne's favourite taxi driver to take us to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. The drive went through parts of Nairobi we hadn't yet seen, so that was good to get in on our last day. We arrived at the Center through the Nairobi National Park and they have a gorgeous view of the park. We were two of many, many mzungus and it felt weird! We haven't been used to that for two weeks and we both had an uneasy feeling about it.

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The centre was full of nature; we paid our small fare to get in and we situated ourselves around the roped off area. The baby elephants came running down this little path and they knew the drill to turn and go straight to the handlers for their bottles. They were SO CUTE and ranged from 3-15 months.

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They all have different stories on what brought them to the centre. Some had fallen down a well, some were caught in traps, some had their mothers killed by poachers or by the drought this year.

They were all really cute to watch. The centre encourages us to keep as quiet as we can so that the elephants don't get disturbed. It is their goal to get each orphan adopted by a family in the wild. They start introducing them around two years and I think he said it takes up to another 15 months for the animal to be completely wild. It sounds like they do some great work and work closely with a lot of organizations to keep poaching and snaring down for all animals.

The babies loved to eat and sort of push each other around, and near the end they would flop onto their sides in the mud and water and just play and stomp their feet to splash, it was so cute!

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We left a few minutes early to avoid the crowd and we headed back downtown. We had a drink at our bar and contemplated whether or not our bus tickets for that evening were legitimate or not. Peter, our taxi driver, had warned us about paper tickets. And when we bought them we went to that specific kiosk because online it said it had a day time bus. The big well known coaches didn't, and we wanted to travel during the day. But when we got there they said no buses run during the day to Kampala. They had a little cubby and the man worked behind metal bars, it wasn't like the last coach office at all. But we had bikes waiting for us at the time so we just booked it there.

Anyways, a little foreshadowing there for you. Back to the bar - we finished our drinks and I wanted to shop for a cute dress on the walk back to our hotel. We pass by the shops every day but we never stop to look and they have the cutest stuff. On the way home however it was rush hour, Nairobi style, which means both cars and foot traffic. All of the vendors spilled into the streets making the sidewalks extra narrow, and making it easier for the vendors to call out for you or even to grab you. I was not about to shop in this insane environment, so I gunned it for home. I ended up with no clothing items from Kenya. :(

We had one final meal in our hotel, delicious as usual, and we headed out via taxi to our bus station. I write this on the bus, I'll post it once we get to Kampala. More on the bus trip in the next post.

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Posted by kvandervegan 10:54 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Back to Baby Hope

semi-overcast 24 °C

Yesterday morning after breakfast we headed into town (long pants on) to buy bracelets for the kids as they were all obsessed with mine and Josh's.

Once finished with our shopping we headed to find a matatu towards Thika. Our taxi the other day to the orphanage cost over $70 Canadian, so we decided to use the cheaper mode of transportation today. That meant our 40 minute trip would take 2 hours but it was worth the savings, I think.

Our first matatu was fine, lots of people watching to be had. The conductor filled the van to the RIM. It was a 14 seater and we had 17 people in there at one point. The conductor puts a wooden plank down to make a 4th seat in the tiny space that's used to get to the very back. Then, with 4 people in each row, he closes the van door and he sits in the window sill or just pressed against the door, with his elbows on the seat back. He is right up in your business. It's crazy. He still collects the fair from all the new people on board. I think skinny and small is a prerequisite to his job.

At a certain stop we had to change to another van going our route and we found a bus going our way. It was about an hour on that bus and it was hot, sweaty, cramped, and smelly. But we moved to a window seat eventually and finally got to our stop in Thika. That whole trip cost us $1.18 Canadian, or 90 shillings, and covered 40 km.

From there we could have waited for another matatu for 20 shillings each, but instead we decided to take a motorcycle since they're so much faster. 200 shillings for that haha, but I was happy to pay so we could feel the breeze after the stuffy bus ride.

We got off and scarfed down a lunch before we saw the kids. We tapped on the gate and they were so happy to see us again! We said we just couldn't stay away. They tried their best to convince us to sleepover and they would offer us their bed for the night. So sweet.

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We joined them for lunch where they ate a massive plateful of rice, lentils, beans, and a whole avocado each. They grow avocados on the property and I had a taste of one, it was delicious.

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One of the boys, Tony, was crying. I asked him what was wrong and I guess one match stick was missing and one of the other boys said he stole it. He was devastated and he said he didn't steal it. It was so sad to watch as we didn't really see anyone cry at that point, except a few of the little ones when they would face plant into the hard ground while playing and bleed. These kids are not whiners. They are tough and resilient but their integrity is important. The amount they help each other out is amazing. So Tony was very upset to be called a thief, but I think they got it sorted in the end. Some of the kids were talking about it but they were quick to tell me it was just a rumour they didn't know if it was true. So cute.

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Two of the kids who were visiting a relative the other day were here yesterday, Sammy and Hope and they are the ones Josh has tattooed on his arm. Hope was so sweet, she was helping pack all day for their upcoming 5 day camping trip. Packing for 14 kids is no easy task! And Sammy was just so sweet. He has eyelashes for days and he helped us distribute the candy and mini doughnuts we brought. He was so responsible about it. I guess he used to be a little hellion, but the Sammy I met was so, so sweet. He was thrilled to be on Josh's arm!

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All the kids were hanging off of Josh again, asking to see his tattoos and asking him to flex.

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Then Josh figured out he could get them up on his shoulders so every kid got a shoulder ride around the property. Big smiles.

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Lots of the girls played with my hair and gave me new updos. We popped the soccer ball we gave the kids by accident, so Ian helped Josh to get an old one down from the roof and they played with that all afternoon.

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We wanted to get going before dark as it was going to take us a couple of hours to get home again. Saying goodbye is a long process, every kid wants a hug so we said our goodbyes (a couple of times!) and we started walking down the road towards he highway.

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Our motorcycle driver we used on the way may have put his number in wrong, or didn't want to pick us up or something, because we couldn't order a ride down this long road. So we kept walking, tried to flag down a driver but they would all just give us the thumbs up. Not what I was trying to do! Finally two men my dads age pulled over and offered us a ride, we got in and I can essentially say I have now hitch hiked! They were very sweet and were happy to help as they were going the same way. They dropped us off safe and sound at the petrol station where we picked up a water and got into our matatu. He promised us 30 mins, it took 2 hours. At least we were by a window!

We finally got to our hotel and had a delicious dinner and drinks with our friends from England and Alaska, and a new friend from Sweden. Rest night, and a good sleep as well. Today is our last day in Nairobi and we plan to shop, walk around, and maybe see a movie before our night bus to Kampala this evening.

Posted by kvandervegan 22:41 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Kenyan BBQ

overcast 25 °C

Yesterday Josh and I took our time getting ready after breakfast, and we didn't leave the hotel until close to noon. It was a nice change not running out to be somewhere. I wore my Levi's shorts that I made for the trip, they're not too short and they're very baggy. It's hit or miss whether it's "appropriate" or not to wear things above the knee in this city, and I knew we wouldn't be downtown too long before we would be out at Anne and Nick's home so I went for it.

Well before I reached the end of our hotel's block I had 5 cat calls. Then I heard things like, "You look wow!" or "Hey beautiful" or one guy shouted his name to me. It was quite ridiculous. I hadn't done my hair, no makeup on, and yet these cat calls kept coming and Josh just kept laughing and saying I told you so. No more shorts in town for me!

Most things were closed for Sunday, including the store we wanted to go to to buy bracelets for the kids. So we found the bar and had a Tusker and I changed into pants which I had luckily brought with me.

We then located a bus that was going to the stop me needed, 50 bob each, so we hopped on. It was like a larger matatu, so more early 2000's rap blasting and the conductor going crazy trying to fill his bus with customers. The people watching out the window was great as it was Sunday and all of the families were dressed up for church. Nairobi has some fantastic style.

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The bus departed and took the highway, but we soon realized it wasn't making any stops. We passed the exit we knew we needed and some people got out of their seats ready to exit. I showed some panic to Josh as I just didn't want to have to figure out another ride. We exited on the highway, crossed the 4 lanes of the super highway, and ended up right where we needed to be anyways. Luck was on our side!

We had a quick, cheap meal in the mall and met with Anne who kindly got everything ready for the BBQ. She had a few more things to do so Josh and I wandered to her place on foot and motorcycle. I wish I took pictures, their home is stunning, and we enjoyed Anne and Nick's company for the afternoon. We also loved cuddling their kitten, Tom Brady, and it's one of the only picture I took yesterday!

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The BBQ'd veg and pineapple was delicious, and Anne made this chickpea, cilantro and avocado salad that tasted like Mexico in a bowl. I couldn't get over the freshness of he avocado and cilantro. Much better than what we get in Canada.

We talked and talked and the topic of the city water came up and I was flabbergasted again. In Nairobi, because of the drought this year, there is no running water for residents from Monday to Friday. So the residents have to buy tanks to fill for during the week, and they usually run out Thursday night. Then on the weekend, the water runs, so laundry is done then and all of the tanks are filled for the week. It's pretty crazy how much I have taken for granted that I turn on the tap and water just comes out in Canada. Nick also has a washing machine, something he estimates maybe 2% of Nairobians have, and they hardly use it because it's taking away he job of the house girl they have who helps with laundry. In some ways it's a whole other world over here.

We had several drinks and night was falling and Nick offered to drive us home. It was so great getting to know these two and I know we'll see them again someday, sooner than later I hope.

We went up to the roof of our hotel for another drink or two and sat down with the English couple, Emily and Zach, their 4 month old Gabriel, and Stacey, from Alaska, who we had met that morning. We shared stories of Kenya and traveling, lots about parenting as Emily is new to it, and we shared a ton of laughs. We had such a great day with lots of amazing people.

We decided to go back to the orphanage today as we don't really have plans and the kids are still on a break from school. We'll go into town for a bit of shopping first and then catch a matatu out there to keep the cost down. Two more days in the city and then another night bus (groan) to Uganda on Tuesday night!

Posted by kvandervegan 22:15 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Baby Hope Center

sunny 24 °C

We woke up yesterday a little fuzzy, Josh more than me as he chugged a full glass of my red wine before we left the bar. One of the brothers bought it for me but I couldn't finish it so he did. Huge mistake!

We had breakfast and then we headed out to find a matatu to take us to Anne's neighbourhood. Matatus are privately run buses just like our Safari bus but with 11 seats, very crammed, and then often overfill them to make money. The driver drives, obviously, but there's also a conductor who gets out while the van is still moving and basically corrals people to fill the matatu. Most of the time it seemed like he was convincing people to get a ride. He uses this tiny broken paddle with the route's number on it and waves it around and yells at the pedestrians, all the while coming back to the matatu to tap on glass with a coin to communicate with driver not to leave yet.

We get into the front seats and we are within a foot and a half of a decent sized TV screen and speakers that are blasting late 90's rap. Like BLASTING. Matatus do their best to lure customers to their van so they decorate them and paint them and sticker them to appeal to people. We heard Ja Rule, old Luda, Xhibit.. all with the music videos which I haven't seen probably since 2001.

The conductor gets out at the next stop and runs beside the matatu, looking for customers. He ends up filling it up full and then half sits on the seat, half hanging out the side with the door open until we get going a little faster. Our ride cost us 50 bob, we didn't even have to negotiate, usually you do especially as mzungus. A taxi for the same route would have been 400-500.

We meet up with Anne and hit the Nakumatt grocery store where we bought groceries and essentials for the orphanage. Then we loaded up a taxi we hired for the day to take us out to the place the kids rent now, about 40 minutes from town. We rode on a superhighway, 4 lanes each direction and 100 km/h speed limit, but this highway has crosswalks and speed bumps, all without traffic lights. So you have to slow way down to go over these bumps and pedestrians do their best to run across at those slow spots. Anne says they put them in because otherwise you would still have people running across the highway all the time. The speed bumps cause quite the traffic jams at most hours of the day. There's also guys in high vis vests selling water and bagged apples through your window at those slow spots. None of this would occur in Canada.

We reached the gate of the orphanage and two of the kids opened it up. They looked through the window and one said, "Josh number one is here!" Josh volunteered and took care of these kids in 2008 for 2 months, and then in 2009 for 3.5 months. They are turning 11 this year. We never told Jane, the owner/operator of the centre, that we were coming. Anne never told anyone as you can't make promises to these kids because they will hold you to it forever. So nobody knew. And yet this boy, Eric, and another boy, Teddy, recognized Josh within half a second of seeing him. I was floored.

He's called Josh number one because a few years later another Josh came to volunteer so he was then called Josh number two. Jane explained to us how Josh number two tried to get rid of his title (because he never met Josh number one) but he was also second to Josh haha. He couldn't shake it, but apparently he tried. Jane also explained that many volunteers come and go, but few leave the impression that my Josh did, and the kids will remember him for their whole lives since he raised them when they were so young. I was so proud to hear all of her stories, it was an emotional day.

As soon as we exited the car the kids were ALL OVER Josh. It was like I didn't exist! A few of the younger girls came to me to hold my hand, and one girl eventually showed me around, her name is Gloria and she's maybe 9. Other than that for the first half of our visit it was all Josh, he was the main attraction and these kids were so excited to see him. They loved his tattoos, they LOVED his muscles, and all they wanted to do was be picked up and held, at 10 years old. Josh got his workout in that's for sure.

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When I brought out my camera maybe half an hour into being there, the kids were SO curious. I had to show them just once how to use it, and they were gently taking turns taking photos, asking the most brilliant questions, and showing each other how to use it so well. One boy, Ian, impressed me all day. I would tell him something once and he had it down. I brought out my iPhone to show them pictures of our Safari and Max and Canada, and Ian was a pro with it. He also wanted to play Yahtzee on my phone, I explained the game roughly, and within minutes he was explaining it to the other kids and playing it. I couldn't believe it.

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Something else that startled me was when we were going through every single photo in my phone (haha) we came across one of my mom. Without hesitation and within the second of seeing that photo Ian says, "that's your mom," very matter-of-fact. I said "HOW did you know that!!" I was honestly shocked and had a pit in my stomach. He said, "well you look just like her!" I'd known these kids for an hour at that point. Unbelievable how much they absorb and pick up on. Another example, I typed my iPhone lock password in once quickly, and Ian knew it for the rest of the day he never had to ask, and I never actually told him what it was but he had witnessed it and so he knew it.

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Josh and I chatted with Jane for maybe 20 minutes, and the rest of the day was spent with the kids. Josh played harder than I've seen him ever play, and I sat on the sidelines with different kids and talked to them and took photos, with their help. Any photo of me was taken by the kids, and some of the others too. They were naturals even with the DSLR! They asked me if if was a very expensive camera, and I said yes, and they said, "was it $10?" I said it was a little more than $10 and their eyes got wide haha.

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Some of the boys I didn't really get to know because they did not stop playing or hanging off of Josh. They were the original ones he helped take care of, Eric and Teddy, the ones at the gate. Ian and Tony hung out with me the most, and asked so many questions about Josh and where he lives and lots of questions about his dog Max.

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Josh played and played with the soccer ball we bought for them until around 7 when it was almost completely dark. When we decided we should probably get going I couldn't help but fight back the tears. I'd know these kids for half a day and I won't forget them. Josh spent so much time with them day after day and it obviously had an impact. The kids told me not to cry, that they'll see us soon, and always asked when we were going to come back for another visit. It was hard to tell them we don't know when we're coming back. They told Josh how much they loved him, and Tony told me he loved me and that I was his friend.

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I was a mess in the car. I thought about the day and couldn't help but cry almost the whole way back to our hotel. I thought about how much we have and how little they have and it was hard to think about the future. I know we're spending a certain amount on this trip, and part of me wanted to cancel it all just to give them something that would impact them. Like pillows, they don't have pillows. I thought about giving up drinking and coffee because these things are so unnecessary and we spend so much money on them when these kids don't have anything. While we were there they had an afternoon snack of tea and a plain piece of white bread each. What 10-14 year old kid in North America would happily take and eat a plain, dry piece of white bread from the bag and have it as their snack? Day in and day out, the same food? The same routine, no parents.

That being said Jane is doing phenomenal things with her centre. The kids go to school full time, one of them is graduating next year. The kids go on outings and sleepovers, and next week the older kids go camping for 5 days. The kids are not skinny by African standards, they are fed and happy and they each have a bed and lots of clothes. When one falls, 5 others come to their side and brush them off and make sure they're ok. They are resilient and I knew that within just a few hours. They are also so, so smart. I haven't been around Canadian kids to know the difference, but these kids really value their education. They know Swahili and another dialect of Swahili, English, and more French than I'll ever know. And they bust it out with the proper accent as well, it's super impressive. Half of them want to be doctors, some pilots, and some want to work with computers. I hope they all reach their dreams.

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Josh and I had a simple and inexpensive dinner, I did not have a Tusker, and we went to bed feeling so happy to have seen the kids but pretty somber as well.

We had a rough sleep as there was someone outside of our hotel yelling and screaming for probably half an hour, in Swahili, something about Mama and I heard the Swahili words for no and one and come, which didn't help a lot. Terrible sounding screams. The staff kept knocking quietly on someone's door next to us and talking with a women. I felt safe with Josh reassuring me but I was still freaked out. Then anytime someone slammed a door I would jump in bed. Ugh.

Today at breakfast we heard the true story - it was the room next to us with the creepy old Norwegian. I guess he brought home two women and one got really jealous and left the room to go down to the lobby and just started screaming. Our hotel is all open air so at night we thought she was outside but she was definitely in the hotel. So Wilson, one of our favourite staff, called the cops to drag her outside, then she still kept screaming outside on the street. The word "mama" also means women, so now we know she was shouting woman come out here to her other friend. Everyone was bonding about the stories over breakfast!

Today we'll wander around the city and then meet up again with Anne since we were supposed to BBQ last night but we were all either tired, crying, or dirty and sweaty last night.

Posted by kvandervegan 01:59 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Party in Nairobi

overcast 24 °C

Waking up Friday morning we had breakfast in our B&B and then texted our motorcycle driver Wilfred to arrange for he and his buddy to pick us up. We made it way to the bus station to buy our tickets to Kampala next week, and then we took one of the busy streets to get to the Hilton. Those drivers know the parameters of their motorbikes within the inch, we were weaving, very slowly, in and out of traffic and buses and people it was nuts. Josh said he only bounced off of a bus once haha.

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We got to the Hilton and Josh has been talking about the little shopping centre inside since we got here, saying the souvenirs are the cheapest you can find and they're a fixed price so no need to barter. I thought, being the Hilton, prices would have gone up since he was here last in 2009. He was right, everything was INSANELY cheap and we kicked ourselves for buying things in the other places. We got a few good finds and then carried on with our day.

We found a little open air patio to have a Tusker and Josh's friend Anne who he volunteered with met up with us. It was so nice to reconnect with her and chat for a bit there. Meeting her after hearing so much about her I see now why she and Josh have always remained in touch! After a drink she called an über for our group and we made our way to a gorgeous new mall near where she lives. We had lunch at her favourite spot, where I happily ordered an iced American with soy milk! First soy I've had since we've travelled, and also the first coffee as I've been drinking tea this whole time. Lunch came and my hummus, falafel, salad and roasted eggplant were all phenomenal. I'm glad we stopped there.

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Next we went to a local sports bar called Natives, it's this humungous place with different seating areas and a rooftop patio. We headed to the roof and had a few more drinks each, paired with great conversation. We then made our way to Mama's house where Josh stayed the two times he came volunteering. It was very nostalgic for him to see the house as he says absolutely nothing has changed about it, besides the fact that it was just her and one other house when he lived there and now streets are full of homes.

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Next Josh's brother Roy came over, and again, lots of nostalgia. Roy now has a wife and a child, he's a very successful business man, but Josh and him reminisced about the times they would go out until 5am and party in Nairobi. Between Roy and Anne telling stories they had Josh in stitches laughing about all of the memories. It was really fun to be around these people who have such a strong place in Josh's heart.

We decided at about 6pm that we were going out to party that night, and that Josh's other brother and sister would join us. I guess it's hard to get the 3 of them together (Roy, Jay and Sandra) so it was gearing up to be quite a night. We figured we should go home and freshen up, so we got an über home. We had a bite to eat, a quick nap to get us through the night, and we were picked up by Anne and her boyfriend Nick at 10:15 to head out.

The club we got to could have easily been in Vegas, it was huge and gorgeous and fairly new to open. We were of course the only 3 white people in the club, and I already stood out as I didn't really pack clubbing attire! Once we got in we met with Sandra, Josh's sister, who looked like a gorgeous Kenyan doll. She is a flight attendant for Emirates and she lives in Dubai. She was absolutely stunning and dressed to the nines. Next Roy and his wife came, and he showed off his awesome dance moves. I felt so awkward dancing because I just know I have zero rhythm and natural ability compared to the rest of the club! The music was really good, a mix of African popular music and then western music mixed in. Lots of drinks were flowing, lots of dancing, lots of people watching. Lots of laughs with the family. Hearing Sandra and a Roy introduce Josh to their friends as their brother was really cute, that's actually how they feel about him and Anne.

Side note - something popular in Africa right now is the silent DJ. So you go to the club but you put on these LED lit up headphones and listen to a different DJ playing music. So people are dancing off of the beat of the regular club because they've got these big, noise-cancelling headphones on. I was like, why don't they just go home and listen to Spotify? Very strange.

Last to arrive close to midnight was Jay who, now that I google it, does look just like Ray Allan. The siblings got some photos together.

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We had a blast dancing and drinking and it was time for the four of us to head out around 2am. I tried to explain that this is when clubs in Canada close, and nobody understood! Their clubs just stay open. We drove home and hit the bed hard after such a fun filled day on the town.

Up today for breakfast and Josh is feeling a bit fuzzy. We're off to the orphanage and then to a BBQ at Anne and Nicks's place. Breakfast conversation was going over how tiny the women were last night but how big their butts were. We agreed they probably don't do squats.

Posted by kvandervegan 23:57 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Safari Day 3

overcast 25 °C

Day three was a very early game drive, so we were up for breakfast at 5:45. We headed out and picked up one of the girls from the lodge (one wasn't feeling well) and we headed out on our drive. We saw lots of the same common animals - zebra, giraffe, elephant, wildebeest, buffalo and springboks - but we didn't see much else besides an owl and a cute little fox.

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The drive back to Nairobi started with the same couple of hours of dirt road. I wasn't feeling 100% so every bump in the road made me a little nauseous but I was fine in the end. We drove a different route than we came since it had rained more and James didn't want to get stuck in the same place as before.

This time though, we came to a small river we couldn't cross, and the route instead lead us to this insane dip through a narrow path lined with trees. James treated this Safari van like an atv at times! We went through it and it took three tries, wheels spinning and mud flying, to get up the hill. The first two times we just could make it over and we rolled backwards into the dip. Unreal. One of the girls was squeamish every time we went through mud. She's close all the windows and make noises that she was not comfortable lol. So when she saw this ditch we were about to go through, she just opened the van and got out haha. But it meant she filmed the whole thing!

We stopped for lunch at another buffet and I bought some more souvenirs for myself, then we carried on with our drive. Once we got to Nairobi traffic was terrible, and it took us over 2 hours to drop everyone off and saying goodbye to our new friends and we were the last stop.

Once back at our hotel we took it easy, had some dinner and got to bed early.

Posted by kvandervegan 23:47 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Safari Day 2

sunny 25 °C

Day two of our Safari we woke up and had breakfast. Josh and I have been eating their baked beans in the morning and they're so good. It's something Josh would have never tried at home. We picked up the girls as they were staying in a really nice lodge, not the tents like us, and we headed out for our full day game drive.

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One of the first things we saw different from day one was a pair of zebras fighting. They were really going at each other!

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We saw all the same things as day one, tons of zebras, springboks, wildebeest, some different types of antelope like these ones.

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Then we saw our first family of elephants. They were big, but not as big as I pictured them to be. They were so graceful and gentle looking, but apparently these African elephants can be quite mean.

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Next we got lucky and saw a hyena! Not everyone gets to see one on safari I guess.

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Then we saw one of my favourites, Pumba! A warthog. We saw a ton of different families throughout the day, they are so cute the way they run and sometimes they stick their tail straight up as they run. I just loved their smug look.

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Then we found two male lions! But they were both being very stubborn and hardly looked in our direction. We would drive up close to them and then they would get up and move to another bush to be more hidden. It really felt like we were pissing off the one. So we carried on.

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Next we saw some huge water buffalo, this one had his horns broken, probably in a fight, and he had little birds all over him picking at him and picking inside his eyes and ears.

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We also saw a family of 5 ostriches, they are bigger than I expected. Also many more elephants and lots of babies!

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We stopped for a group photo under this perfect African tree. The views are so stunning!

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Next we saw something our Safari driver said he can count the times he seen it in the last 5 years. Two Safari cars were parked off the road so that means they're onto something. The drivers only deviate from the road for lions it seemed, since they risk a fine. We parked and we saw a lion car on the hills in the distance with her head down, slowly encroaching on something. Our driver didn't think it was anything but we asked him to stay. Minutes later we see two more and a tiny cub higher on the hill, walking slowly. Off to the left was two warthogs just having lunch. We watched as the lower one circled around and got on the other side of them, and the top lion and her cub went higher, so they had them surrounded in a triangle. A few minutes later two of them charged together and tried to catch the warthog! One got away and one ran for his life up the hill and he managed to get away as well! It was pretty amazing and our whole car was cheering.

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We then drove to the Masai river and saw a huge group of hippos! They are so lazy and a bunch of them were sleeping in the river with their heads on the mud bank.

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Next we found a tree to sit under for lunch. The packed lunch from the lodge wasn't vegan, so I ate a bunch of fruit and chips. I didn't pack anything else and I was still hungry until everyone piled in their fruit together because nobody wanted it. Josh and I took a couple of pieces and the rest we donated to the Masai community we would see later that day.

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After lunch, more elephants, as well as continuing to see all of the same animals. They are everywhere.

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Then, while James was on a call, he went too deep in a muddy spot and got very stuck! Luckily our sister car and a land cruiser were not far behind us. They rigged up some tow cables (they tied them in knots.. Josh says they need some tow clips lol) and the land cruiser pulled us out! While we waited I took some photos of Aanita, from London because she was into it and I think we'll make her sisters jealous!

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Next we headed off the road (always a good sign!) as James had got a call about a leopard. His calls are in Swahili and he didn't tell us what he heard was around because leopards are hard to find and he didn't want us to get our hopes up. But we found him and he was so cute and sleepy, he only woke up for a second while we were there.

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Next we saw a vulture chilling in a tree.

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We came across a bunch of giraffes near the end of our drive and two of them were fighting! They fight so strangely, they bash their heads on the sides of the other giraffe and stay glued together at the neck and kind of push against each other. It seemed like the others stayed away but kind of watched. It was a very slow fight haha.

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After our full day of Safari, I think we were out there for close to 9 hours, we visited a Masai village where they show us how they live. First they performed their dance for us and Josh even joined in. They sing chants, there's one guy singing and one guy doing a very low bass sound and the rest of them so this huffing kind of noise. It sounded really cool. Then they jump in their dance, and the higher you jump the less of a dowry you'll pay to the father of your bride when you get married. Dowry starts at 10 cows.

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The leaders took us inside their village. Their homes are made of cow dung and soil, and the women build them. The women do EVERYTHING and it's the men's job to walk the cattle and livestock and then eat. Their homes last for 9 years and before they come down naturally (and from termites) the women start to build their next homes in their next community as they are nomadic.

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They explained to us about the boys of the community. When the boys are 14 they are circumcised in the centre of their village, out in the open, and they have to prove they are a man by showing no pain. Then they go out in groups from 15-18 and live on the lands. Before they return they hunt a lion, and whichever boy makes the kill is the head boy. Then they can return to the village with the skin of the lion and the head boy wears the head of the lion.

We watched one of the dads divide up the bag of fruit and sandwiches we gave to them. All the kids swarmed and were so happy to eat the food we gave them.

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In this culture the men are polygamous and each woman has between 8-10 kids. You do the math, there are kids everywhere, it was hard to see. They raise livestock and then they sell that for maize flour and potatoes as they don't grow anything. They also have dogs for protection, they sleep outside but they wag their tail as soon as you look at them, just like the ones in our camp. They were so, so sweet and there was a tiny puppy there who was so happy to see us.

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The men showed us how they make fire out of a soft cedar wood and a hard sandpaper tree wood.

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Then we paired off and the Masai men showed us inside their homes. They have a room for baby cows and a different room for baby sheep. The cow in this home was only 3 days old. They separate them so that they can milk the mothers as their people drink the milk. The baby gets some milk and eventually grass, they wean them early. If anybody doesn't like the sound of that, it's the same as Canadian milk just on a massive scale!! Stealing food from babies. Why I'm vegan :)

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Inside their home is a bed for kids and a bed for elders and a bed for the rest of the family. Their mattress is the leather from the cows. They use the whole animal.

Next our Masai took us to see the livestock and then he showed us different plants that grow. They have one they use the leaves as a mosquito repellant. One they use as a dye, its green but when you crush it it turns red. He painted our face with it like they would on their wedding day.

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We also went to their marketplace where the women were selling their goods. We said no thank you as we have a bunch of it at home from Josh's previous trips, but an elder woman basically told Josh he was buying two bracelets. Later our Masai guide told us she was a little bit drunk! They make alcohol out of the fruit of a sausage tree and sugar and water. Their water comes from the river close by. Apparently it's quite potent and only the elders drink it.

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As we were leaving we saw the boys who danced earlier playing a game of soccer with one goalie. It was pretty cool to see. They also kept practicing their jumping and singing while they played. Our Masai walked us back to our camp and we said goodbye.

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Dinner was great again, lots of vegan stuff and then we went to bed early as we had a 5:45 breakfast planned for the next morning before our last game drive.

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Posted by kvandervegan 22:28 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Safari Day 1

semi-overcast 25 °C

We got up early for a 7:30 start to our Safari. The first girls we met were from London, but one was originally from Kenya and knew a bit of Swahili so that was interesting. Kay and Anita. Another girl joined us named Aubrey, she's from the Philippines but lives in the Congo doing auditing work through the Red Cross. She had some interesting and frightening stories as she works in areas of armed conflict, and she's even had colleagues die while at work. She was very well spoken and really sweet.

On route out of Nairobi we picked up an older man named Ali from Pakistan, he is a radiologist who works in Saudi Arabia. Really interesting guy to talk to, and well travelled as well with some great stories. The last couple we picked up, Seline and Moritz, from Koln, Germany, 20 and 21 they were young but well travelled. Moritz spent time couch surfing and hitch hiking the west coast and a lot of Vancouver Island, and he said Tofino is one of his favourite places in the world.

James, our driver, was a guy our age originally from a village outside of Nairobi. He packed his bags one day and put himself through college learning about tourism, in particular animals, flora and fauna. Really nice, sweet guy who seemed like he was besties with all of the other safari drivers we met on the way. He was an incredible driver, we drive a standard Toyota safari van with a roof that comes up. He got of out of some tough, muddy situations! You'll see.

So we drove a couple of hours through many small villages, little huts calling themselves salons, bars, hotels. It was pretty eye opening how some villages live with so little. The women were walking and carrying huge jugs of water on their backs with cloth straps wrapped around their forehead. The kids play with sticks in mud on the side of the road, or with an old oil bottle with wheels attached on a stick and they push it around like a toy. It almost feels like it's not real, like it's a show being put on. But it's real life for these people.

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We got to the Great Rift Valley part of he highway and stopped for photos, it was a perfect clear day after heavy rains the night before so it was perfect. There were also huge baboons on the side of the road, some of them sitting on the cement medians enjoying the views of the farm lands, it seemed.

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We carried on and then stopped for a buffet lunch in Narok. Some of our Safari mates complained that the food in Kenya was bland, but Josh and I really enjoyed it and most of it was vegan, as far as I could tell. Tusker was more expensive than we've had but still only $3.85 a bottle Canadian.

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Beside the lunch spot there was a souvenir shop where I bought a couple of bracelets for myself. The man working looked at Josh's tattoo and told us he used to live in one of those huts. He rubbed his skin and asked how long it would last on his arm. Permanent, we said, and he was shocked!

We kept driving through small villages and we finally hit the part of the road that veered off and wasn't paved. It was a bumpy few hours through Masai tribal land and eventually we hit a really muddy spot. Looking ahead we didn't know how bad it was going to be, but James did, and he was driving a rear wheel 2x4 drive. So without notice he GUNS it and we drove through maybe 20 feet of mud, he was overcorrecting to keep the wheels from getting stuck, doing half doughnuts through the mud then swerving back again, and we came within INCHES of trees a couple of times. Josh got a video half way through the drive, but it's not the bad parts! We were all screaming, it was insane. We erupted in applause after realizing we made it through. The car behind us was 4x4 and the other car on our tour, he made it through just fine but they had quite the reaction to having watched our car go through it!

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In going through the mud this way we crossed into a "gated" area of Masai land, so our two drivers had to negotiate a price to get out. While they were doing that we handed out candy we had bought to the local kids, they were so cute. There were two kids from Pakistan in the other safari car, and the smaller one wanted to play with the local girl so bad, but her mom kept telling her not to touch her it kind of sad to watch. This local girl had, potentially, only the clothes on her back and these beat up shoes and lived this whole other life but they are just kids who wanted to play. It made me think about how much influence adults have on kids.

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We kept driving through more and more rural country. We would see small Masai villages and kids herding sheep and cows out in the plains. There are always people sitting on the side of the road just so smug, straight faced. And then the second you give them a wave their faces light up and they wave quickly back or give you the thumbs up and a huge smile.

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We got to our tents and dropped off or stuff, had a Tusker and tea, and then headed out for a couple of hours for a quick game drive where we saw our first taste of animals. The first one we saw was the wildebeest and I was in awe! We also saw a ton of Thompson's gazelles right away, they're so cute and they constantly wag their tails.

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Next we saw a bunch of zebras just chilling. All of the animals are so chill their lives are just eating and slowly walking.

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Next we saw the first of the big 5, the water buffalo. He was huge and they liked to mean mug us.

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We came across the Impalas and little foxes.

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Then James got many calls. Ok side note - the Masai Mara is HUGE it would take days to drive the whole thing. And yet they have cell service THROUGHOUT. Unbelievable, we got clear phone calls the whole time from other drivers reporting what they saw so we could meet up with them. Anyways, we went towards a bunch of Safari vans and we saw our first lion, we drove RIGHT up to her and just watched her chill out by a bush. Our van was within 3 feet of her and she didn't mind.

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Next we saw a huge group of giraffes, they are huge! And Josh's favourite animal.

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After that we stopped for a photo op of the gorgeous plains. Rules are you can't deviate from the road or risk a $200 usd fine, and you also can't really get out of the car. But we made stops when nature called and to get a few photos of the group.

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We made our way back to the tents as the sun was setting. We quickly made friends with the local dogs who protect the lodging grounds, they were so sweet and they wagged their tail whenever you made eye contact. They're used to tourists petting them because I don't think they get that kind of love from the Masai who they belong to. The sweetest one of the group was pregnant, and when I talked to her I wished she didn't have to have babies. There's no need to bring more life into this type of world, in my opinion. They're working dogs who sleep outside, they're full of ticks and they don't get the companionship they clearly love since they ran over to Josh and I whenever they saw us.

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Dinner was buffet, I really enjoyed it lots of vegan stuff, and then a small bonfire where we chatted with the Masai people who watch over the camp for predators. Off to bed and that concluded our first day of safari!

Posted by kvandervegan 09:17 Archived in Kenya Comments (3)

Nairobi

overcast 25 °C

After a much needed siesta this morning we woke and got ready to hit the town. The bus ride sure took it out of us. I didn't use the washrooms once on the trip but Josh said to me this morning that at the bus stops along the highway they have different washrooms for Muslims and hen everybody else. Crazy.

We took a look at our rooftop patio before we headed out the front door. We've had locals and other travellers tell us that the location of this hostel isn't in the best spot, and seeing it during the day I guess I know what they mean but we feel very safe. We've been especially warned about not walking after dark, and I think we will stick to that rule. It's so, so busy in Nairobi that I brought my camera out with us but I won't do it again. I didn't touch it once. I brought out my iPhone for maybe 30 seconds to look at the map and a very nice young woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, "DON'T use your phone in this area." I thanked her for the advice. We later met a guy named Lawrence and he said it will get swiped if I take it out in certain areas.

Walking past our hotel there are so many little shops and huts selling clothes and they're all so cute and relevant, but the hassling is quite intense so we don't even stop to look. In Mombasa and Diani there are a lot more tourists and even white residents, but walking and touring around today I didn't see a single other white person (other than at our hostel), and I heard the word "Mazunga" spoken a whole lot more than on the coast. Mazunga means English speaking person, and since it's low season I think there are a lot less Mazungas around than normal. It's usually the kids who say it but here everyone is saying it to us.

I wish I had a photo of the streets here. It's like Mombasa times 10. Garbage is everywhere you look. Plastic bags EVERYWHERE. People EVERYWHERE. It's hard to explain how crazy it is.

We walked towards the Hilton where Josh used to spend some time (happy hour), and this man named Lawrence approached giving us Safari rates. We're so used to people walking with us and then asking for money, so when Lawrence said right away he wouldn't ask for money that we felt a bit better. We had a drink at a spot he recommended and then we went with him to his office to negotiate a price. He and his colleague were very friendly and explained everything and we ended up booking through them a two night, 3 day Safari to Maasai Mara leaving tomorrow morning.

The two men shared with us their stories and where they came from. Lawrence is 55, though I had him pegged at 37, 38. He has three kids and he grew up in the Mathare slums that Josh has worked in. He and his colleague both are Christians and they don't drink or smoke or use any substances. It's very important to them and they talked about it a lot.

After booking the safari we went to a small market where we bought a few things for ourselves. They started us off at $100 for two leather bracelets, a beaded necklace for me, and a Tusker magnet for our fridge. Way too much! The haggling is intense here, and the guys kept saying they were giving us the best price because of Josh's work here in the past. We settled on around $30 Canadian, which I still think is too much for what we got. We have to explain to all of the vendors that we are not rich and we work hard for what we have. But the shop owner explained to me that it's the colour of my skin, and even the shape of my nose which means money to them.

After the market we hopped on a motorcycle each to give us a ride back to our hotel to avoid the half an hour walk. No doubling (tripling?) in Nairobi so we each took our own. The first thing they do is hop the big curb in the middle of the busy street, its higher than our sidewalks. I was like, "whoa, we can't do that in Canada!" And my driver said something I've heard a lot so far this trip, "This is Kenya." He said motorcycles can bend a lot of the rules of the road. the driving is insane, most streets don't even have a centre line and the cars just avoid each other, motorcycles weave in and out of traffic, go up the wrong way on the street. You name it I think I've seen it so far in less than a week.

We're now back and just finished an amazing meal on the rooftop patio. It reminded Josh of the food his homestay used to make for him, he had a vegetable stew and I a lentil stew, both with chapati and both delicious and cheap. We'll be eating here a few times I think.

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We'll be taking it easy tonight, then up early for our 3 day Safari. I can't imagine there's wifi in the Mara, so no posts for a couple of days.

Posted by kvandervegan 07:32 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

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