Featured Blogger: Lorenz Omondi

I have been asked by Lorenz to make you aware of his blog.

As you can see from the logo, it is all about Kenya. He seeks to promote cultural tourism in that country, with many photos and features.

There is also a lot of very interesting tribal, political, and cultural information that may well be new to you.

If you would like to see and learn more about that picturesque African country, or just give Lorenz some encouragement, here’s a link to his blog.

https://ke1tribe.wordpress.com/

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Six)

This series has been in many more parts than I had intended. The memories came flooding back! I will make this the final entry, even if it runs a little longer that the others.

We decided to take a trip by sea, in a glass-bottomed boat. It was reasonably priced, and offered the chance of seeing lots of colourful fish, and the opportunity for snorkelling in the clear water. This last part would only apply to my wife, as I cannot swim, so would be staying on board. We ordered a taxi to take us along the coast, to the recommended place for these excursions. We soon found one leaving about thirty minutes later, and had a coffee as we waited. They didn’t cram too many on board, and we left with the three crew, and a total of ten passengers. Once they had found their chosen spot in calm waters, they dropped anchor, and opened the internal cover on the glass bottom inside. It was a great view; looking down into the crystal clear water to be able to see all the way to the sea-bed was a magical moment. One of the crew jumped over the side, clutching large lumps of bread. Immediately, hundreds of colourful fish of all sizes appeared, nibbling the fast-dissolving bread from his hands. Up on deck, another crewman was dishing out the face-masks and snorkels, and soon everyone (except me) was in the water. They paddled around quietly, occasionally looking back at the boat to give me an enthusiastic thumbs up. Although I didn’t go in the ocean, I really enjoyed the trip, and my wife declared that it was a highlight for her, being able to interact with the fish in the warm water. I had my doubts about how natural this was, as the fish were obviously so used to being fed every day, they seemed to be waiting in queues for the bread. However, I kept quiet, as I was not about to cast any shadow over what had been a very enjoyable morning for all concerned.

Back at the hotel, we decided to relax on some loungers in the gardens. It was there that we had an animal encounter that I did not enjoy at all. Lying back against the cushion, I was thinking how wonderful everything was there. The lush vegetation, the white sands, blue seas, and palms. Turning to straighten the back rest, I saw the most enormous spider firmly attached to it. The thing was the width of a dinner plate, with long legs, and a bulbous body. Not a fan of spiders, and never having seen one this large, even in a zoo, I have to confess that I was up and running in a heartbeat. My wife laughed at first, then discovered a similar arachnid under her own lounger, and jumped in alarm. I ran to get a waiter, explaining that we were infested with terrifying spiders. He wandered over, and picked them up as if they were soft toys. Walking over to a planted area, he flung them deep inside. He said we should not worry; they weren’t poisonous, and had never been known to bite anyone. They liked the shade offered by the loungers, and were often found there. For the rest of our stay, we didn’t sit on any outside furniture without giving it a close inspection first.

That evening after dinner, there was a show at the hotel This was offered free of charge, and staged in the outside area, near the pool. There was some traditional African dancing and singing, followed by some musicians playing unusual instruments, and small drums. After the interval, two men appeared with assorted snakes. They asked guests to hold them or stroke them at first, later displaying very dangerous snakes, at some distance. I was sure that the poison sacs had been removed from these reptiles, or perhaps they had been drugged, as the men waved them around rather carelessly. Then a large chameleon was produced. I have always been fond of these bizarre lizards, so when he offered it to be held, I volunteered. The strange animal walked up my arm, with its distinctive jerky gait. Reaching my collar, it climbed onto the top of my head and sat there, eyes swivelling around, a look of disdain on its face. I shouldn’t have really approved of this show, but I did love that moment with ‘my’ chameleon.

We spent the next day doing little but relaxing. The day after that, Mahesh was arriving to take us out again.

Mahesh arrived as arranged, and drove us into the old town. He showed us the 16th century Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese. This formidable castle was very interesting, and housed a number of buildings within an enclosed compound. We then walked around some of the oldest parts of the city, unchanged in centuries. Most of the residents there seemed to be of Arab origin, with some who were obviously Indian, but few Africans. We went back to the car, and he told us that we were going to his club for a late lunch. A short drive took us to this colonial-style building, set in manicured gardens. The main area housed a bar and restaurant, and outside were tennis courts, and a cricket pitch. It was cool and relaxed there, and he was obviously well-known. This was of great interest to me. Almost all the members we saw there were Indian Asians. Except for the manager, all the staff were African. Before independence in Kenya, it would have been all white members, with Indian staff. Africans would hardly have been seen there, except those doing the menial tasks. Yet here we were, with the Indians replacing the whites, and the Africans now doing all the service jobs. I began to realise why there was animosity to the Asians in Kenya, and why their money-flow was controlled. Independence had done little for the average African. They were still doing the same jobs as their fathers, and grandfathers before them. We had a polite lunch, and Mahesh even ordered alcohol for us; beer and wine were served, and brandy after the meal. He insisted on paying again, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable about that.

Back at the hotel, he asked to take us out again the following day. He said that he wanted to show us his temple, so we could hardly decline.

The Hindu temple we visited the next day was dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. It was colourfully painted, and displayed many statues of Ganesh in different sizes, and in various poses. We were welcomed inside, and introduced to a religious leader, who once again treated us like very important guests. He showed us around the building, explaining some basic facts about the Hindu religion to us. Inside, it was a very peaceful place, a great contrast to the street outside, which was crammed with stalls, and bustling with traffic. On the way back, I asked Mahesh if we could get some gifts for his wife and children, to show our appreciation for his hospitality. He would have none of it, and said it was kind of us to offer, but unnecessary. We secretly resolved to send them things from London, once we got home. And we did. With only two days left in Mombasa, we thanked him profusely for his kind hospitality. Having such an attentive local man showing us around had made all the difference. We felt privileged to have been away from the crowds of tourists, and to have seen something of the real life lived there. We told him that we would spend our last full day relaxing on the beach, before the flight back to Nairobi, and our connection to London, the day after that.

His last act was to insist on getting us to the airport. We told him that travel was organised, but he would have none of it. He took the number of the company rep, and phoned to cancel our arrangements. He then sorted out a personal driver and car, to make sure that we arrived at the airport in time, and unstressed. He gave us some small gifts and papers to pass on to his brother in Wimbledon, and said his farewells.

We still had a fair amount of Kenyan money to get rid of, as it was of no use to us back home. We bought some expensive souvenirs in the hotel shop, and paid extra for a la carte meals in the hotel. We also dished out generous tips to our room boy, the maids, and any waiters that we knew well. The driver from Mahesh arrived in good time, and we were sad to leave the lovely coast, and comfortable hotel. We gave his driver a ridiculously large tip, as we still had too much Kenyan money, and caught the internal flight to the capital.

Once at Nairobi airport, we had a delay of around two hours, before catching the flight back to London, via Rome again. We managed to change up almost £50 at the airport, using the original receipt from the first hotel. They must have thought we were very cheap people, as it seemed that we had only spent £30 in all the time we were there! The balance of the money we put away, deciding to ask our neighbours to send it on later, or give it to a charity in Kenya. We then went to board our aircraft. Unknown to me, my wife was still carrying the Maasai machete in her hand luggage. This was detected, and an alert raised by staff. The next thing we knew, we were in a room, being asked by airport staff and police to explain why we were carrying a ‘weapon’ on to a passenger aircraft. We were also searched, revealing almost £150 in Kenyan money, that we were supposedly ‘smuggling’ out of the country. We had no answer to the money, though the machete was easily explained. After almost an hour, we were getting worried, and expecting to be in serious trouble. The staff from the airline arrived, to tell us that we could carry the machete home as a souvenir, but that it would be stored in the captain’s locker, until we arrived in London. The plane had been held, until we could sort out the currency issue. Soon after, an important-looking policeman appeared, holding the cash. He explained that we should ‘donate’ this money to orphans in his country, and if we agreed, we could go. Naturally, we said yes, thanking our lucky stars that local corruption had saved us from detention in a foreign land. We apologised to the other passengers, who all looked at us as if we were some sort of international criminals, and we took off for the return to England.

Despite the tense end to the trip, caused by our own stupidity, I hasten to add, it was a memorable holiday, and one that I would recommend. If you ever consider something similar, get a decent camera, with a telephoto lens. My wife was the photographer back then, and she took just a 50mm standard lens with her basic SLR. As a result, all our photos were less than memorable. And avoid machetes.

So that you know, I changed the name of Mahesh, just in case…

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Five)

The internal flight took just over an hour, and we arrived in Mombasa to be met and taken to our hotel, The Mombasa Beach Hotel. It was immediately noticeable that this place was very different to Nairobi. The temperature was approaching thirty degrees, and there seemed to be palm trees everywhere. Arriving at the hotel, we found it to be a very pleasant, reasonably upmarket hotel, fronting a beach of white sand, with the beautiful clear blue waters lapping gently inside a natural reef. Fortunately, it wasn’t as large as some of the nearby hotels, and the room was just right, with a sea-front balcony overlooking the swimming pool, the beach fringed by gently swaying palms.

Our stay here was to be deliberately restful, and no animal-viewing excursions had been arranged. The city itself offered various attractions, not least its variety of architectural styles; everything from Arab influences, to Hindu temples, and Colonial buildings that had endured down the years. We were soon in the warm clear water, and enjoying an afternoon relaxing on the beach. The service was great too, as waiters would bring anything you desired, at any time. Many vendors wandered the beaches, offering anything from colourful beads or carved elephants, to hair-braiding. They were not at all pushy, wanting to avoid any problems with hotel security. At the time, a shuttle bus was offered, touring the hotels, and depositing tourists into the old town of Mombasa, collecting you at intervals for the return trip. And it was free too.

However, we were about to find our own guide, to give us an insight into life there, away from the conventional tourist spots. As I told in part one, our Asian neighbour in Wimbledon had a brother in the city, where he owned and ran the large Nissan car dealership. On our second morning, he arrived in reception, and introduced himself. He apparently considered it his mission to look after us during our stay. A pleasant man in his late 30s, affluent by Kenyan standards, he seemed to have the impression that we were very important people, and determined to treat us like visiting dignitaries. It seemed impossible to refuse his hospitality, so we went with him to his car, to be told we were going to be introduced to his family. His name was Mahesh, and he was to make a great difference to our stay there.

His first act was to take us to the outskirts of Mombasa, where he told us he would show us what it was ‘really like.’ His large luxury Nissan car was immediately out of place, as he skirted the edge of the city, arriving at a huge town, constructed entirely of shanty dwellings. Bumpy roads and tumbledown shacks gave a very different view of Kenya’s second city indeed. He gave a commentary as he drove, telling how people from all over the country arrived there looking for work. Having no accommodation, they set themselves up in these insanitary places, as they earned comparatively good wages working in the tourist industry there, much of which was sent home to their families. It was a place with a menacing feel; gangs of young men stood on corners, and everyone looked very poor, and shabbily dressed. We were uncomfortable with the concept of viewing the plight of these people as some sort of tourist excursion, and managed to tell him this without causing him any offence. Some of the young children threw stones at the car as we turned around, proving that we were unwelcome, and right to leave. Heading back towards the city, he turned off onto a long dirt road, at the end of which was his house. Perhaps I had been expecting something grand, given his position, but we found a large flat-roof bungalow, inside a walled compound. There were metal fences across the driveway, guarded by two tall men, armed with clubs. Mahesh explained that he employed them to guard his house, to deter burglars. they were Samburu people, from a traditionally warlike tribe, and a long way from their ancestral homeland. We certainly didn’t envy him having to live like this.

Inside the house, we were introduced to his wife, and her elderly parents. Their children were at school, and we were told that we would meet them that evening, when we were all going to a restaurant, his treat. We were given tea and Indian sweet cakes, and made to feel very welcome. After some uncomfortable chit-chat about their family back in Wimbledon, Mahesh took us back to the hotel, asking us to be ready later that evening, for the short journey to the restaurant in the city. They arrived just after 7pm, in a minibus containing all the family, including two very pleasant children, a boy and a girl, aged 10 and 12. There was even a driver, one of the employees from the car company, an African man. We were driven to the restaurant, which was something of a disappointment, at least by appearances. He had arranged to hire the whole thing, an open-air affair, with a covered roof, and long tables all laid out. Other friends and business acquaintances had been invited, and we were eighteen in number. The tables were covered in sticky vinyl, and there were no menus, as all the food had been ordered in advance. Lights suspended from the roof covering gave the place a party atmosphere, but there was no alcohol offered, as they were Hindu, and did not drink.

What followed was a lengthy and delicious repast, consisting of numerous courses of vegetarian Indian food. It was nothing like the Indian food we were used to in London, and was served in small amounts, with constantly changing flavours and textures. Everyone continued to treat us like guests of honour, with many offering business cards. The children were very inquisitive about London. They spoke excellent English, and behaved impeccably. Mahesh was visibly proud of them, and also seemed to be basking in some perception of importance about having such esteemed guests from England. The meal went on for a long time, finishing with more sweet cakes, and Indian ice-cream. I decided that it would be impolite to offer money towards the bill. I had no idea what it would cost anyway, but I was flabbergasted when I saw Mahesh, who was sitting next to me, place a few notes on a plate to settle the account. It was less than the equivalent of £25. Amazing value for such a large party, but also indicative of the lower salaries there, and the cost of living outside of the popular tourist areas. We said our farewells to the other diners, and Mahesh suggested a walk along the street, to take in the atmosphere of the area, which was unmistakably an Indian district. At a roadside stall, he bought us something I had never had before, though I have tried it since. It was Paan, a selection of nuts herbs and spices, wrapped in a Betel leaf. Although this can be used as a stimulant, our selection contained some menthol herbs, chopped nuts, and a red plant, all said to aid digestion. It was certainly unusual, and it was very difficult not to want to constantly spit. When we had chewed away all the flavour, Mahesh suggested we throw it into a waste bin nearby, though he swallowed his! Back at the hotel, we discussed what a good evening it had been, considering we had eaten no meat at all, and only had fruit juice to drink.

Although he had offered to collect us again the next day, we had told him that we were considering a boat trip. So he left it that he would come and see us in two days time, to show us around some more.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Three)

Our driver and guide for the trip to Amboseli introduced himself as Stephen. He was quick to add that he was from the Kikuyu tribe, and was a Christian. He told us that he would be with us for the whole stay, and would be sure to show us all the ‘best animals’. We were in a small minibus with five other passengers; two couples, and a single Japanese man. We were the only tourists from England, but everyone else spoke English, which was just as well, as at no time was any other language translation offered. Starting the long journey soon after an early breakfast, we began to see something like the country we had expected. Rough roads, slow lorries, and wobbling motorcyclists heralded the start of the trip, but we were soon away from the city’s outskirts, and into open country.

This was the Kenya of my youth, and all those safari films. Endless plains, stunted acacia trees, termite mounds, and scrub-land. The sun was out too, and it was getting warmer; light reflecting off of the red earth that looked as if it had been painted especially for our arrival. We passed small villages, a few jumbled buildings at the roadside, surrounding a general store, or perhaps a lone petrol pump. Small children waved as we passed, thin frames in tight vests. After some hours of this, we stopped for lunch, at a roadside lay-by. It was a cold meal, prepared by the hotels we had come from and handed to the driver, who kept it in a cool-box. Stephen showed us the view, by waving his arm expansively. ‘That is a part of the Rift Valley’, he told us, adding ‘Look, elephant.’ I looked off at the horizon but could see nothing. One of the other passengers offered his binoculars, and I was amazed, quite literally, to see hundreds of elephants, far off. I had never imagined that so many of these magnificent creatures still existed, let alone in one single massive herd. We took many photos, but the small lens failed to register much of interest.

We arrived at the Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge that afternoon. It was exactly as I had expected it to be. Individual African-style cabins, dotted around a large central building housing the reception, bar, and restaurant. The whole area was overshadowed by Mount Kilimanjaro; snow-capped, and truly magnificent to behold. Although a long way off, and actually in another country, Tanzania, we felt as if we could easily walk across to it. We couldn’t of course. We were shown to our cabin. It had basic accommodation, and a small patio with comfortable chairs. The beds had mosquito nets over them, but I never once saw a mosquito in Kenya, so presumed that they protected us from some other kind of bug. Sitting outside, the view was simply enthralling. We were told that late afternoon was the best time to look for animals around the lodge, but that we should not venture too far after dark, as lions had been seen close to the compound. We went for dinner, and during a drink in the bar, Stephen appeared, to tell us that we would be going on a game drive after breakfast. We were very excited that night, as we were finally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but animals.

Back in the minibus the next day, we didn’t have to wait too long before coming across the first truly wild animals. As we drove along the track from the lodge, we had to stop, as a family of wart-hogs crossed the road ahead of us. The large male stood guard in the centre of the road, glaring at us behind a formidable display of curly tusks. His females and tiny babies crossed behind him, just like a family using a pedestrian crossing in London. It was very charming, and a good start to the day. With the lodge no longer visible, we started to see quite a few other vehicles, more tourist minibuses, and some large four-wheel-drive safari jeeps too. Stephen told us that he was going to turn off, so as not to end up in a queue, to look at the ‘best’ animals. One of the passengers alerted us to a huge herd of zebra, grazing off to the right. They were accompanied by a large number of Thompson’s gazelle, and some larger impala. It seemed to be a feature of the prey animals, to gather together in groups of differing species. Stephen got the vehicle close enough for us to take some good photos, but not to frighten off the nervous small deer.

Further on, he took us to his ‘favourite trees’, where he was sure that he would find giraffe. The taller trees were in a clump, and sure enough, there were giraffes feeding, and in large numbers too. Brought up with zoos, we might have already seen most of these animals, but it never ceased to fascinate, to see them in such large numbers. Quite a few family groups of giraffe were there, and numbered over fifty in total. Leaving that area, we were suddenly aware of a large ostrich running very fast a few yards from the bus. Another followed, accompanied by a juvenile. They got up a fair turn of speed, and ran very close to us for a while before veering off, seeking safety from whatever danger they had perceived. We then had to return for lunch, with the promise of a trip to see hippo that afternoon.

Driving out to the hippo pools, Stephen gave us stern warnings about approaching them. They were responsible for killing more people every year than any other African animal, he told us. We would have to walk some way off the track to see them, so rangers armed with rifles were going to escort us. He was going to stay with the minibus where we were dropped off. We met up with another group, and the two rangers. They explained that there was a ten minute walk, and we were potentially exposed to any dangers. They advised us to be wary of the cape buffalo, as it was unpredictable, and to listen to their instructions, should any animals approach the group. It seemed to be exciting, away from the relative safety of the small bus, walking across to the watery area where the hippos were usually found. We were all very safety conscious, and kept quiet. We arrived at an area where rushes surrounded a few deep pools which had a lot of vegetation floating on them. The rangers indicated the presence of the large mammals, but we couldn’t see anything. After ten minutes or so, the shiny back of a hippo briefly appeared on the surface, and on the other side of the pond, a loud snort indicated another. That was it. We were told that we had to go, as another group would arrive soon, and numbers were controlled. It was something of a disappointment, even though we had seen a back!

When we told Stephen, he seemed determined to find us something to make up for it. After a brief drive, he stopped the bus. Up ahead, we could see a large number of baboons. They were picking at the ground on either side of the road, unconcerned by our presence. He waited for them to move off, before continuing the drive back to the lodge. Just before sunset that evening, something happened that made the holiday for me. As my wife was in the shower, I was sitting outside the hut, on the small patio. In the distance, thousands of wildebeest were heading across the horizon, silhouetted by the setting sun. They looked as if they were returning from a hard day somewhere, moving slowly and deliberately. I was suddenly aware of something close by, and turned slowly to look. I almost leapt out of my chair in alarm, as I saw a huge mandrill sitting down next to me. This large baboon-like animal had a formidable set of teeth, and a brightly-coloured muzzle, indicating a mature male. Even sitting, its head was level with mine, it was so large. I had no idea what to do, but thought it best not to run. Moments later, I was amazed when it extended its hand to me, palm up. All I had to offer was some cube sugar, a leftover from a cup of coffee. I placed it very gently into the outstretched hand, and the mandrill ran off clutching the booty. That close-range encounter made the whole trip worthwhile for me.

That evening over dinner, I told of my meeting with the mandrill to anyone who would listen. The staff scolded me for giving it the sugar. It had obviously been fed before, and would keep coming back if people gave it treats. They mentioned that salt was being put out that evening, and with the lights from the compound, we might see some elephants. We sat outside after the meal, and did indeed see some elephants and buffalo, coming for the salt, all very close to the buildings. I was left unsure if that was how I wanted to see them though. The next day would be our last at the lodge, and was to feature a trip to a Maasai village, and the prospect of seeing some big cats.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part two)

Nairobi did not really live up to expectations. Despite a couple of interesting buildings, it was predominantly modern, and not very attractive. The outskirts of the city were surrounded by unregulated slums, and the few attempts at modern architecture were overshadowed by the reality of life for most of those living there. (I should state that this was a long time ago, and I am not commenting about Nairobi as it is today) The tourist shops were uninspiring and over-priced. Furthermore, the staff in the shops were either indifferent Africans, or very pushy Asians. As predicted by the cabbie, we were approached many times, with a friendly hail of ‘Jambo’, and asked to change currency, sell our camera, or be guided around the sights. We managed to brush everyone off with politeness, and never once felt actually threatened.

We were lucky enough to spot an unusual restaurant. They served local meats, such as ostrich, impala, and even crocodile. The menu said that these animals were farmed, so that saved whatever conscience we felt about eating such things. We made a reservation for that evening, and felt cheered up by brighter weather, and temperatures approaching the low 70s. After coffee and a snack in a clean cafe, (the coffee is excellent, Kenya Blue Mountain) we headed back to the hotel by taxi. I would like to add that there are some museums and other places to visit in Nairobi, but for reasons forgotten by me now, we decided not to visit them. Our overall feeling was that we were there mainly to see the animals, so we were not unduly concerned that the capital was something of a disappointment.

The restaurant exceeded our anticipation. We ate on an outside terrace, with views over the city. (I wish I could remember the name of the place!) I started off with smoked Impala, a bit like Braesola, and delicious, followed by steaks of Ostrich, some rice and local vegetables. The meat was very tasty, and they had a good wine list, as well as local beers. There was also a sweet trolley, with delicious pastries, and familiar desserts. We went there and back in a taxi, and on arrival back at the hotel, declared it to be a memorable repast. The next morning, we had arranged a trip to Nairobi National Park, so we were suitably excited.

After breakfast, we were collected by a minibus, and taken to the park. There were only four other passengers, so we all enjoyed a window seat. The vehicle had an elevating roof, so when we saw something of interest, we could look over the lip, into the open air. Our driver would also be our guide, and he assured us that he knew the best places to spot the wildlife. The park is less than seven miles from the city centre, and is very large. Despite its proximity to Nairobi, it felt isolated, and suitably exciting. The first encounter was with a herd of Giraffe. Used to seeing them in zoos in the UK, we were totally unprepared for seeing them en masse. Perhaps sixty animals were feeding on the tree branches very close to the vehicle. Nearby, we could see baboons running around, and wart-hogs too; very endearing pig-like animals. It was hard to contain our excitement at seeing so many wild animals so quickly. As well as Zebra, we also saw Wildebeest, Secretary Birds, and Vultures. Later on, we saw Buffalo, Eland, and Hyena, which were much larger than I had imagined. The driver took us to a ‘secluded’ spot. It seemed that everyone else knew about that spot though, as there were lots of other vehicles parked there. We saw a small family of Lions, mostly females, with two cubs, and a large male. All this just a few yards from the minibus. It was quite something. Our trip over, the driver returned us to the hotel, and waited for a tip. We gave him a good one, he had done a good job that day. The next day, we were going on an overnight trip to The Ark, in the Aberdare Mountains. We couldn’t wait.

The Ark is a purpose-built viewing area with accommodation, similar to the more famous Treetops. It is quite a distance from Nairobi, about 80 miles north, in the Aberdare mountains, another National Park. We had booked the trip before arriving, so it was already paid for. The plan was to arrive in the afternoon, check in, and get a seat on the viewing area. This balcony overlooks a large watering-hole. Salt blocks are laid out, to attract the animals, but they arrive mostly after dark. We had a very nice room; though basic, it had all we would want. Meals were provided, and we quickly ate, before getting to the viewing area. It had been raining all day, so the staff told us that there might not be that many animals as a result. Despite our disappointment at this news, we resolved to stay up, on the chance that we might see something. We could go to our rooms, and be awakened by an alarm, when animals appeared. Instead, we chose to sit on the verandah, in comfy chairs, with blankets to cover us. The feeding areas were well-lit, and staff supplied hot soup, or hot chocolate, on request. It was chilly and wet, not at all what we had expected.

After dark, the first arrivals were small Cerval Cats. They are omnivorous mammals, and we were advised to keep our hands away from them. They scurried over the balcony, seeking any scraps or snacks we had left. They were obviously well-used to people, and not bothered by our presence at all. We later saw large numbers of Wart Hogs, coming to the water to drink, but little else,for most of the night. When we were on the verge of giving up, the staff alerted us to be vigilant. They had seen Elephants, and they soon arrived, to lick the salt put out. It was amazing to see them in such numbers. Perhaps a hundred or more, jostling for the salt-licks. There were lots of tiny babies, juveniles, and large male tuskers too. Their arrival made our night, and made it all worthwhile. We were glad to have made the effort, and not too concerned, as we would soon be going somewhere where we could be guaranteed to see many more animals. After a good breakfast, we left tired but happy. It was an experience we would never forget.

After a day’s rest in Nairobi, we had a planned trip to the Amboseli National Park. This is in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, close to the border with Tanzania. It is about 200 miles from Nairobi, so a long trip of more than five hours by road, livened by a brief stop at the Great Rift Valley. This had also been planned in advance, and would be a two night stay at the Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge, with all trips and meals included, returning during the evening of the third day. The bus picked us up after breakfast, and we set off in good weather, hoping it was a taste of things to come.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part One)

After the early death of my then mother in law, my ex-wife was left some money in her will. It was a generous, if not life-changing amount, and she decided to spend it on a holiday. As it was enough to be able to choose somewhere sufficiently exotic, we could examine the possibilities of travel further afield. The short list was soon drawn up. India, Egypt, South America, and Kenya were all at the top. I was quite keen to visit the USA at the time, and to explore the battlefields of the Civil War. However, it was my wife’s legacy, and only right that she should make the final decision. She settled on Africa, and a trip to see wildlife in Kenya. It would be a two-centre holiday, with time spent in Nairobi, before moving on to the coast at Mombasa. Some excursions would be arranged beforehand, and others chosen after arrival. We would have to visit during the summer, as my wife was a lecturer, so had over six weeks off at that time. We settled on mid-July, and made the booking. We were going to fly to Nairobi (via Rome), and stay in a nice hotel on the edge of the city. We included an overnight stay at The Ark, a purpose-built hotel and animal viewing area, similar to the more famous ‘Treetops’. After eight days in this region, we would fly on to Mombasa, to enjoy the coastal area, and warmer weather found there. It was all arranged, and we began to get quite excited about our forthcoming safari adventure.

We lived in Wimbledon at the time, and our next-door neighbours were from a Kenyan Asian background. Their brother still lived in Mombasa, where he owned a large car dealership. We were very friendly with them, so naturally chatted to them about the holiday, and they were happy to give us some tips and pointers. Back then, Kenya was not a very democratic country. Daniel Arap Moi had declared himself president for life, and the currency was not traded; so the Kenyan Shillings were only available in the home country, at rates inflated for tourists. Our London neighbours devised a plan, where we would be able to get much better rates, and help their family into the bargain. On our arrival in Nairobi, we would be met by a business acquaintance. He would come to our hotel, and give us a substantial sum of Kenyan money. For the sake of appearances, we would change up some of our travellers cheques at the hotel too, so that we had a receipt for a transaction. On our return to the UK, we would give our neighbours the amount of money agreed. In this way, their brother was able to get some money out of Kenya, and have some savings over in England. It was illegal in Kenya, but the UK government were not at all interested. So, we agreed to help out, knowing that it would make our holiday very cheap in terms of spending money once we were there.

The flight was long and tiring, mainly because of a long delay on the ground in Rome, waiting for the time when dozens of noisy and excited Italian passengers were to board the aircraft. As we were flying due south, there was no time delay to deal with, and we arrived as expected, in the mid-afternoon. Although we had booked with a large company, our trip was mainly as independent travellers, with a guide arranged for some trips, and the services of a representative on call, if we needed them. We were met by a driver at Nairobi airport, and we were the only passengers in a small mini-coach. The hotel was modern and comfortable, with the city in sight some distance off. The reception advised us that it was dangerous to walk into the centre, and recommended that we take a taxi at all times. We changed up some travellers cheques, booked a table in the restaurant of the hotel for later that night, and retired to our room for a nap, as we were both very tired after the journey. We were woken about two hours later by the telephone. The reception said that someone was there, asking for us. He had thought this to be most unusual, and asked if he should be allowed up. I asked them to show him to our room, and as I suspected, he was the ‘money-man’, a salesman from the local branch of the car dealership. He introduced himself, and handed over a small zip bag. Once he was sure that we were satisfied, he said his farewells, and left. He was visibly uncomfortable, and seemed unhappy doing this task. We counted the bagful of cash, and were surprised to find just over £1,000 worth of Kenyan money. We had been asked to give £200 for this in sterling, once back in England. This meant that we had a rate of five to one, instead of less than one to one exchanged by the hotel. We were cash-rich, for the first time in our lives. The meal in the hotel that evening was surprisingly good, and compensated for the overcast weather; hardly the blazing African sun we had anticipated. It was to turn out to be indicative of many very good meals during the whole holiday. Kenya remains as one of the few places that I have visited, where I never once got an upset stomach, despite eating in a wide variety of places, including open-air restaurants, and small cafes. Flush with our new wad of cash, we paid for the meal immediately, and even left a generous tip.

The next morning, we decided to take in the sights of Nairobi. As advised, we took a taxi, as there were always plenty waiting outside the hotel. The reception also told us the approximate cost, as the meter was either not switched on, or unreliable. The driver first told me not to lean my arm on the open window. He said that if he had to stop, there was a good chance that someone would steal my watch, by ripping it off my wrist. He also told us to keep our camera slung at the front where we could see it, and suggested that my wife sling her bag around her body. On the short journey into the city, he drove straight through the first red traffic light, causing us some alarm. Realising our concern, he said that he would not stop at any lights or stop signs, in case someone came out of the bushes to rob us. We had only been in the country a short time, and we were becoming very worried by all these warnings. When he dropped us at the main shopping street, he went on to say that we should not offer large denomination notes, or produce any wallets. He said that we should carry small amounts in our pockets, and never accept the offer of tour guides, or go off with anyone who wanted to show us something. As we got out of the cab, we were wondering what we had let ourselves in for.