A Travellerspoint blog

April 2017

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

sunny 27 °C

Up this morning for a 7:30 departure and of course it's a gorgeous sunny day in Jinja, as we say goodbye to the pool. Our hired driver Richard was early to pick us up, and we stopped to get a coffee with soy milk at the Java House (Africa's Starbucks) before we set out. The drive was supposed to take 4-5 hours since you go through Kampala and Kampala's traffic is absolutely brutal. But since it was Sunday and still early, basically the whole country was in church and Richard said it was the perfect time to drive. The trip ended up taking less than 3 hours on mostly single lane traffic and through many little villages. Score!

Richard was a really unique guy, basically single at 33 which his family hates, but he has a taxi company with 5 drivers under him and he rents out rooms in Jinja. It sounds like he's worked very hard to get where he is, and his 6 siblings all had kids young and are all struggling. The Ugandan English accent is really difficult to understand, but I got used to it by the end of the drive. He asked about us and how we managed to avoid pregnancy, which I thought was quite a taboo topic for Eastern Africa! But we told him anyways haha. We also talked about our dog and how he sleeps with us, and I showed him pictures to prove it. African dogs only sleep outside and are for security, so it always surprises people to learn that ours sleeps with us!

As we drove into the Entebbe area the sky got dark and eventually it started POURING. We reached our hotel and ran inside, paying and thanking Richard for the quick and friendly drive. Once inside we had to wait about an hour for our room to be ready, but the owner and her kids (and wifi) kept us occupied. Since it was getting close to noon I didn't think we would get to go and see the orphaned chimpanzees on Ngamba Island, something I had really wanted to do in Entebbe. Angela, the owner, made a few calls and booked us on the boat; I was thrilled! She also arranged for a driver to take us there. So as soon as we checked into our very nice little hut we were on the road to the marina, and the rain was just starting to let up.

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It was a little delayed to get going but we made some small talk with an Alaskan father and son and then we headed out on the boat for the almost hour long ride out to Ngamba Island.

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Once there we were greeted by a TON of flies and a crazy smell of ocean, even though we were on the largest lake in Africa. I think it was all the fishing they do. There was also a massive lizard on the beach! He was too far away for a good photo though.

Our tour started with a guide telling us about the island. It was taken over by the conservation group to take care of orphaned chimps. The island is 1 square kilometre in size, and the few people who take care of the chimps live on 5% of it, the chimps roam freely in the forest for the rest, separated by two massive electric fences. It felt a lot like Jurassic park as the chimps were roaming freely maybe 50 feet away, past the fence, and calling and yelling out for us! They knew it was almost time for their afternoon snack. Our guide told us lots of information about them, their social lives, politics and romantic lives. They have 49 chimps on the island and two babies that were made when the chimps removed their own IUD's and got pregnant! We also learned about how they introduce a new orphan or a new member to the family, and how it can take up to 2 years to have a new chimp be accepted into the group. It sounds like a lot of work to be sure they can roam free with the others. They get the chimps from around Africa when they're injured or separated from their mothers due to poaching, traps, and injuries. Their oldest member is 36 years old!

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We learned more about the chimps and watched them from afar before we walked right up to a platform next to the first electric fence and watched the volunteers throw avocados, watermelon and sweet potato over the fence. The chimps put their hands up waiting for their share! It was amazing to see. They are so human like it was crazy. They all have completely different faces, just like people, and not at all like the other animals we've seen. Like every zebra has unique stripes, but their faces are identical to me. These chimps had completely different faces.

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Then came a mom and baby looking for their share. The mom was at the point of letting baby wander off to different chimps and socialize and find his way. It was super cute!

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When the chimps wanted the food that hadn't made it over the fence, they banged sticks and motioned for the caretakers to use these giant sticks and poke the food through the electric fence at them. The chimps had their own sticks and fished it through the fence being sure not to touch. It was so cool to watch!

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At the end we got up close and personal with some chimps in the holding areas. These are the ones who they are trying to introduce into the family in the forest. There was also a mom with her baby who got pregnant super young, usually too young to get pregnant, so she is unable to properly care for the baby and they weren't doing well in the forest. Baby is suuuuper cute! The guide said they are working to reintroduce them now.

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Just watching them eat and be around each other was amazing. I'm really glad the tour all worked out for us. Plus the sky opened up and we got a gorgeous day in the end!

Our boat ride back was much smoother than the one coming to the island, and we stopped in the middle of the lake so the driver could announce that we were on the equator line! Queue equator selfie.

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After returning to the mainland we got a taxi to the mall where we ate at a cafe and enjoyed the open air restaurant. We watched monkeys go through garbage in the parking lot too. There were so many! They were pretty large too and with super long tails. I didn't get a photo of them though, Josh said I was making a scene because I was so excited to watch them lol.

Now we're back to our hotel for another early night, having a few Tuskers since they may be our last! We depart here at 2 am (gross) to the airport to fly to Cairo!

Posted by kmcveggie 10:06 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

Rain Day

rain 24 °C

Since it was pouring rain today we took it easy at our hotel in the morning and then headed out to see the town for the day, raincoats on. We walked to a little floating bar on the Nile, it would have been fantastic had the weather been on our side! We had a Nile beer on the Nile. We bird watched, which was more interesting than it sounds, and we watched as a fisherman bailed water out of his wooden boat and moved himself around with a single wooden paddle. When he got further away from us, he sang to himself. Josh says he does that same when he works alone!

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We got a Boda Boda into town, and Jinja did not let me down! I've been waiting to shop in stores and just wander around for a while now. Everything is too busy and everyone hassles you so much in the cities. But here, with the rain still coming down, we shopped freely and got to take in the little town, which reminded me a bit of an African Qualicum Beach. One of the first stores we went into was a souvenir shop which also tie dyed their own fabrics and hand make dresses for you! I decided to have one made in a blue and brown sort of marble looking fabric for 40,000 shillings or $15. Later, when the dress was delivered to me all finished, the guards at our hotel told me I overpaid and definitely got the mzungu price, but I was happy to pay it! The owners mom, who we met, hand made the dress for me in 4 hours, she charged 5,000 shillings for the express service, only $1.90 Canadian. Amazing!

After shopping and having a very tasty but very spicy Indian lunch, we headed back to enjoy our awesome hotel for the afternoon while the rain let up a little bit. Here's some photos of how well done this place is.

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We were treated to a gorgeous sunset that I could not do justice with any photos, but here's an attempt.

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We walked again to the bar and grill down the street and ordered pizzas, where we had a late dinner last night. This time we ordered one for the security guards as well. We had given them Josh's left overs from last night and they were thrilled, so we thought a whole pizza, at about $8 Canadian, would make them even happier. We did not disappoint!

We're off to bed at a decent hour since we have to be up early for our trip to Entebbe.

Posted by kmcveggie 09:13 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

River Rafting the Nile

sunny 28 °C

Checking out of our hostel at 6:30 this morning was a struggle, but the driver from Adrift was ready to pick us up so we were on the road to Jinja bright and early. The sunrise was epic and I wish we could have stopped to take photos as the mosque and other buildings were making gorgeous silhouettes in the pink sky.

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We picked up 4 others at Fat Cat Hostel, two from the states and two from the UK, all working together in Tanzania and taking a long weekend break together in Uganda. They were great to chat with and made the 2 hour drive feel not so long.

We arrived and were greeted by a fleet of awesome staff members. To my surprise they had a breakfast buffet lined up (after Josh had just heard me complain about not having coffee) so enjoyed that and we applied sunscreen multiple times before we had our demonstration. We had a great view of the Nile here at the starting point.

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Our groups consisted of Josh and I, the 4 we picked up on the way, and then 12 Ugandan guys who work for a telecommunications company who were here for a team building day. During the demonstration when asked who can't swim, a surprising number of them put their hands up! They were all joking with each other and seemed like a really fun group, however we wanted to raft the good stuff (you can do "mild" or "wild" rapids) and so we decided we should get the strongest swimmers haha. The demonstration really brought to life the realness of river rafting though, and I got a bit nervous!

We got geared up and walked down to the boats on the Nile. Our new friends from the car were in another boat that was now full, and there we are with the guys who can't swim! After we tried to figure it out, the guys were like, you know what, we're here, let's go wild!! They were in so we all jumped in the boat together. It ended up being a blessing, these guys were HILARIOUS together and laughing and joking all day, we enjoyed their company so much. The other boat never seemed to laugh or cheer.. we definitely got the good boat!

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Our guide Sauth, or his nickname Chicken Wing, was so happy and smiley I just loved him. He seemed genuinely happy to be guiding us. We were in the flat, calm, slow moving water and he was having us practice his commands. Like what to do when he says different things. Half the guys were joking around and he tried to reel us in as we were nearing the rapids. We then flips the boat to get used to that happening, and half our guys struggled to swim back, joked about not wanting to go, it was hilarious. There was this one guy who was the most scared and he kept nervously laughing it was SO FUNNY he had the biggest smile.

So we're not very close to the first rapid and we get in the boat and Sauth keeps reiterating his points. When we neared the rapid I saw why, we were headed down a freaking waterfall! Luckily their fantastic photographers captured all of our facial expressions.

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Oh my gosh, it was terrifying. We're pulled off to the side to regroup and we already had an injury. Poor Allan in the back didn't hold on enough and he head butt Phillip's helmet in front of him, gashing a hole into his face just above his eye. Blood poured down his face and he went into the medic boat. He took it like a champ and after they taped him up they let him come back! We were worried the guys would want to go for mild rapids after that, but instead they basically said YOLO, and we nicknamed our boat Wild Allan, high fived our paddles and carried on! Some more pictures of the different rapids:

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We had quite a bit of calm space in between rapids where we got to chat and even swim. It was such a nice day but I could feel it on my skin already, we were gonna be burnt after the day! At one of the next rapids we had 3 choices: Chicken Line, 50/50, or Bad Place. Pretty self explanatory, 50/50 your boat may or may not flip, Bad Place you're definitely gonna flip! We had to walk past the grade 6 rapids to get to them, and some of the guys chickened out and decided to get into the safe boat. One of the guys who wanted the safe boat got lost and walked too far. We watched the safe boat go by and I knew I hadn't seen him in it. Thank goodness we waited as one of the guys finally found him in the forest lol. But now he didn't have a choice but to come into our boat and go to Bad Place. In order to get there we had to paddle hard, and the instructions were once we were there and Sauth said, "get down" we were to throw our paddles away. If the boat flipped, we were not to stay with the boat, but to get air and then try and aim your feet downstream until a kayaker saved you. So intense! So we get going and Sauth instructs us to paddle hard, then he instructed us to back paddle, but all of the guys were screaming, Josh and I were near the front of the boat so we didn't hear, then we got down, chucked our paddles and were quickly ejected from the boat. I thought I was drowning, it was so intense, you can see the sequence of events here.

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Then Josh looks for me and that's my little helmet under water there haha.

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Once we all got back in the boat we got the real story - we didn't listen to instructions and we actually went down chicken line! It was an epic fail. We felt like we all almost died, but it was not supposed to be like that. AND the one scared guy managed to stay in the boat just smiling the whole time!! I guess when Josh got back to the boat he just smiled down at him and didn't help out at all haha. As the guys came back in, especially the ones who can't swim, they had some stories to tell! We're told if you're under water just count to 5 and before you get to 5 you'll be up for air (reassuring). Well Phillip tells us how he got to 5 and did not get air and it was so dramatic and hilarious! The last guy back to the boat couldn't really swim and he was totally it of breath. What a day.

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We departed from our new friends as they all signed up for a half day trip and Josh and I were the only ones in the group to do a full day. It was only $15 more per person! So some of the kayaking guides had to come into our boat to fill the space, plus we had two kayakers and the safe first aid boat all just for us. We went down some sweet rapids and got to swim a ton.

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Oh the last rapids the plan was, if the boat doesn't flip, just jump out and you can take the rapids on your own. Josh fell out, but I didn't and Sauth was yelling at me to jump. It seems like you're jumping to your death into these crazy Grade 4 rapids! But I did and it was so fun. We had such an epic day.

Afterwards they BBQ for you and have some beers. We bought some jewelry made by one of the kayakers to help get herself to the world championships. Then we were driven to our hotel, about 45 minutes through rural Jinja. We were tired but it was such a good day.

We checked into our hotel and it's INSANE here. The guy who owns it, we were told by one of the kayaking guides, is super eclectic and that it's decorated to match his style. It's insane but in such a good way - everywhere you look there is something cool and the property is stunning, with a small pool and crazy trees everywhere it feels like we're in a 5 star spa hotel in a jungle. Our room is massive and beautiful - it's by far the best place we've stayed on this trip. However once we finanly got checked in we got to see our burnt bodies. I have some pretty severe burns in some funny shapes because of my one piece swimsuit I wore! Josh and I both have very burnt legs as well. Ouch.

I'll take photos before we go, but there are tons of homemade lamps and light fixtures they're all so cool. Lots of stuff made with old bottles glued together. Unfortunately this morning as I write this over an amazing breakfast, it's pouring rain. It's our last place with a pool and we won't get to enjoy it! We also had free bungee jumping included in our package, an off season bonus we weren't expecting, and if it's pouring rain still I doubt we will head up there. But we'll relax either way before a long trip up to Entebbe and then an early morning flight to Cairo on Monday.

Posted by kmcveggie 23:41 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

Boda Boda City Tour of Kampala

overcast 24 °C

Woke up this morning after a wonderful sleep in a bed, not on a hot bus. Josh decided to go to a gym we saw close by so I made myself a delicious avocado toast and sipped Ugandan tea and enjoyed the sunny balcony. The birds were out and they sound just like monkeys it's very tropical! Those birds are smaller but there are some massive birds here that just chill.

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The breakfast here is basic, but yesterday we had stopped for some groceries and I got produce at the stand out front. I paid 74 cents Canadian for a massive avocado, at least double the large ones at home, a tomato that tasted like a tomato, a mango and a lemon. All their lemons are green here, why are ours yellow? The produce was all fantastic.

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After breakfast and Josh's gym fix we were picked up by Walter's Boda Boda Tours. I had heard fantastic things online about them and while they seemed pricey, I still wanted to do the tour to see Kampala. We told them what we wanted to see and they add it to their standard list. Saw a monument on our way to our first stop.

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First stop was the King's Palace. Our guides told us we would only hear "good things" about the king on this tour and that he would tell us the rest later. Women are not allowed to wear trousers, so they wrap a sarong around you for the tour. The palace was nice, the view was amazing, and our guide told us about the history of the building. There was a lot of torture and deaths on this property, so the king doesn't actually ever stay here. The building is kept up and cleaned, but he only ever visits for an hour or two at a time.

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The palace was overtaken several times and used as military barracks. In those sieges many of the artifacts or assets were demolished. But they managed to keep the remains of some of the kings old 50's cars, like this Bentley and the rims of a Rolls-Royce, plus this canon.

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We walked down the hill through the staff's quarters. Mostly the security guards live here with their families. There was a really cute duck family passing by! The babies were cute but the adults were not like ducks at home...

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We entered down a long path towards a dark hole. This space was originally used for storing machinery, but only for a short time. When the grounds were seized the new captor outfitted them to be holding cells and torture chambers, and over 6 years he killed over 19,000 soldiers. He tortured them using electrified water which the soldiers would be forced to wade in. Sometimes he would turn it on full time and let the stringers soldiers push the weaker ones in from their holding cells to make more room, as many people died from suffocation in the cells. It was an eerie place and the history left us with goosebumps.

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I can't remember the full details, but another king took over the grounds and continued to torture for 1 year, killing another 6,000 people. So in 7 years this place killed 25,000. People come now and leave messages for those who have passed on that may have been in their family. Did I mention this all happened from 1973-1979? Unbelievable.

Posing at gate of the palace and looking down the Royal Mile.

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Next we went to he Gaddafi Mosque. It is the second largest in Africa, and only recently finished being built, I think late 2000's. upon entry they outfitted me in a skirt and a head scarf. Josh really liked the outfit, thinks it really suits me. ;)

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Shoes off to walk into the mosque.

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We walked in and it's massive. Fatima our guide walked us through the faith and the mosque and the city's history. Gorgeous chandeliers.

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Next we walked 267 steps to the top of a lookout with our guide Mike. Thank goodness they let me remove the headscarf for that part! They said otherwise I risk fainting. I believe it!

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At the top of the lookout Mike pointed out the seven hills of Kampala, and a bunch of history. Kampala gets its name from the animal Impala, this used to be called the hill of Kampala and over time it changed to Kampala. Great views from above.

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Next we weaved in and out of traffic on our way to downtown. Lots to see, lots of people, lots of curvy mannequins!

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We got to a spot called organized chaos. It's where the matatu taxis go to fill up and then depart and one fills its spot. It was insane! So many matatus, so many people walking and everything was so tight.

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After that we headed to lunch where the guides took us to a really local spot. Dungy and with no menu, our guides assured us we could get something vegetarian and with no dairy or egg. What came was a huge plate of starch - rice, pumpkin, arrowroot, casava, sweet potato, and ugali (the staple food of east Africa. I'm not that picky but it is not good!). We each got this plate of starch and then our main, mine was a split pea dish and Josh's was a pinto bean dish. We're almost certain each were vegan and they were both tasty enough, but not a ton of flavour in Ugandan cuisine. Mostly just filling food. We had 3 large meals, Josh didn't come close to eating his so our guide took over and ate the rest, and one of our guides ordered a coke, and it cost us 18,500 shillings or $6.90 Canadian. We tipped her 3,500 shillings or $1.30 CAD and or waitress was thrilled.

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Next we went through a small slum. Something we've noticed is Kampala is a lot cleaner and more garbage free the Nairobi or Kenya in general. Even their slum was "nicer" than what Josh remembers the Mithare slum to be like.

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We then went to the Baha'i temple where we learned about the Baha'i faith. They believe that all religions started as one, all people are equal no matter what religion or background, men and women are equal, there should be no prejudice, and that science and religion should be harmonious. It was very interesting to learn about and they never preach they only teach. There aren't that many temples around the world as they believe you should pray daily but from anywhere comfortable, and that prayer should be something internal for yourself and you shouldn't have to go somewhere or see someone to do it. It was very interesting!

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Finally we hit up a market which was so busy and not what I had in mind so we didn't go in. Instead we went to a local store where I bought some Ugandan tea and curry powder and masala mix.

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Finally we were dropped off at a beer garden I had researched. Tiny shot glass-sized tasters of their 4 beers were 2000 shillings or 75 cents Canadian each, so we both tried it out. Unfortunately the beer was not good at all, something we've found in craft beer in Africa! A little disappointing to end our day this way!

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We took a short Boda Boda to the mall where Josh had a huge meal and indulged in desert as well. We tried to shop but everything was Canadian priced but not good quality. Our tour hides had told us to buy second hand from the markets as then it is Ugandan made instead imported. I'm starting to think he had a point!

Even though our Boda Boda back to our hotel took a while to get through traffic we waited for him and he took us home. We said goodbye and came upstairs to play cards on our balcony. Josh won one and I won one and we're calling it even to head to bed so we can get a decent sleep tonight. There was some sort of lightening type light in the sky in the distance but no sound or thunder, were wondering if it's a bomb fight or...?

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Up early tomorrow for our ride to Jinja where we have a full day of river rafting down the Nile planned :)

Posted by kmcveggie 12:43 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

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 kmcveggie 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 kmcveggie 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 kmcveggie 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 kmcveggie 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 kmcveggie 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 kmcveggie 23:57 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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