Monthly Archives: March 2019

15 March: Second rest day in Arusha

In the words of the Beatles “I heard the news today, oh boy”.

Like the rest of NZ, I am stunned, sickened, and devastated. Very worrying to hear that the gun man was posting his intention beforehand but no one reported it. Terrible to hear that he was live streaming and people were encouraging him. I hope all those people are rounded up and charged with hate crime. How sick is the world when a platform like IG is refusing to take down the video footage of the shooting, but automatically removes any footage with mothers’ breast feeding?

I have the same sort of disbelief as after 9/11, and questions like “how did he manage to get all those weapons?”. My thoughts are with you all, and my hope that there are there no more attacks.

After breakfast it was ground hog day – off to get SIM card, money, and go to supermarket. At the bank I withdrew 400,000 Tanzanian shillings (approx. $360 NZ dollars). The touts are onto you the moment you hit the outskirts of town, and I have got good at saying “Hapana Asante” (no thank you), and if that doesn’t work “Kwaheri” which means goodbye, and if still that doesn’t work going into a shop. The patient ones wait until you come out again.

After getting the SIM card l stopped by a woman selling sandals to try on a pair, next thing I am surrounded by a group giving me different pairs to try. I thought they were part of her team. When I decided on a pair I gave the money to one of them and started to walk away. The woman started yelling “money money” and I realized it was a tout. He gave the money back to her but lesson learned: only deal with the vendor.

This was handy to know as I next stopped to buy sun glasses as I had stood on mine. I asked the vendor how much and started looking at a pair. The touts arrive trying to talk up the price as the one I picked up had colored frames, it would be more – which I refused. The tout said “deal with me as the vendor doesn’t speak English”. I just ignored him and gave the money straight to the vendor who looked pleased and relieved.

Then off to the supermarket – immediately another tout attaches himself to me. I can tell he is carrying more paintings so tell him I already have paintings, not buying any more. We then talk about animals from Australia until we get to the supermarket, “Kwaheri” I say hopefully. When we come out it turns out he also sells bracelets, so I buy two to see him on his way. Ok, from now on I need to just refuse to enter into conversation.

After taking the bags back to the hotel, we go out again back to last nights restaurant to pay the 3,000 shillings. On the way there and back I practice my tout deflecting, and manage to get back to the hotel without any additional purchases.

Once back at the hotel we had lunch, I had a vegetarian pizza which was quite nice.

Then hand washing. You can’t put undergarments into the hotel laundry, and I was not sure if bike pants would be counted as undergarments but assumed they would, so I hand washed them as well.

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Rest  day chores

The rest of afternoon was spent catching up with emails, photos, and the blog.

In town there is a clock tower which is the halfway point of the great north road of Eastern Africa between Cairo and Cape Town, so have joined this trip just before the half way mark.

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Clock tower

We had dinner at the hotel. I had chicken tiki curry with garlic naan, which was very very average, but helped with a nice stellenrust Chenin Blanc from Cape Town. Brett had the mixed African grill with chicken and beef, which was also pretty average.

Last rest day tomorrow.

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 African Tulip Hotel

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14 Mar: First rest day in Arusha

I enjoyed waking up with no pressure to have to be anywhere at any time. Breakfast was a buffet again. This time not Indian flavored, with a range of cereal, porridge, fruit, omelets, beans etc. Also a range of cakes.

Before and after breakfast I managed to catch up with all of my children and catch up with news. Great to hear that my daughter Lizzy was successful in her application for a Charge Nurse Manager role.

Mid-morning, we set off from the hotel to go to the bank to get local currency, to get a SIM card, and to go to the supermarket. Our hotel is only a 10-minute walk to town so we decide to walk.

Within 5 minutes we have the first tout coming up to us – a “tout” is someone who starts talking to you, trying to get you to give them money, or to go to a gem shop or buy a painting etc.  We are trying to get away from him and another man, who is walking past, tells us if we want someone to go away, we need to say “hapana asante” which means no thank you.

We get into conversation with this man, he tells us his name (Saitoty) and tells us that in his village there are doctors from NZ who have come to provide health services to woman and children. Saitoty offers to take us to, and show us around, the markets which are few minutes away. The markets are huge with all types of food, household goods, fabrics and traditional medicines. The place is packed and the aisles between the various stalls are very narrow and packed with people. I am not sure if I would have had the confidence to venture in there without Saitoty.

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The Marketplace – more photos below

We ask Saitoty about SIM cards and he advises the best provider is Airtel and takes us into a branch. But it turns out that we need our passport so we will need to come back again tomorrow.

After this Saitoty suggested a gem store near our hotel. We had a tour of the gems and it is very interesting seeing the ruby surrounded by the mother rock, and also Tanzanite.

Tanzanite is only found in a very small area of the world, so far only in Tanzania in a 7 km long 2 km wide area near Arusha. Tanzanite is named after Tanzania and it was added as an official birth stone for the month of December by the USA gem association in 2002. The first new gem to be added since 1912.

Tanzanite is not considered to be a precious gem despite being 1,000 time rarer than diamonds. This is because to be a precious gem you have to have beauty, rarity and hardness. Tanzanite, like emeralds, are not a hard stone and you have to be careful wearing and cleaning it.

Once we had had the tour the reason for no entry fee was clear: the hard sell of jewelry. The items they started with were very pretty – at 2,500 USD they should be. I quickly advised that they were totally out of my league however I do like buying earrings as a memento of the big bike rides. Tanzanite comes in 3 main grades A, B and C and so now I have a nice pair of grade C earrings, at 165 USD.

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Visit to Arusha Gem Museum

After this, Saitoty suggested we come to his workshop which was just by the hotel to see his paintings. This may have been the plan all along but we really enjoyed talking to him and got a lot of information about Tanzania and the way of life here. I liked a painting of locals celebrating the birth of a child and bringing gifts, so bought that for 126 USD, then back to the hotel.

Saitoty came in with us for a drink and then lunch and we continued chatting. Saitoty wrote down some useful words for me such as pole (sorry) – useful for when you bump into someone, Asante Sana (thank you) and Kwhaiheri (goodbye).

Saitoty is from a village called Mondale Mferijini where there are about 70 people living. Saitoty has a five-year-old daughter and is training to be a social worker. Saitoty told us that as not everyone has cellphones when people go away from the village they fold a leaf a certain way that lets visitors know if they will be back very soon or gone a long time.

Despite not having got to the bank, supermarket or got a SIM card, it was a great morning. We exchanged emails so we can get in contact if I come here again.

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Our “self appointed guide” got us to his shop

After lunch we spent some time at the pool. The water was not too hot and I enjoyed swimming around it even though it was not very big (four strokes of free stroke either way as pool was square).

We set off to find a restaurant close by that the Lonely Planet rated as worthwhile going to. Two minutes out of the hotel and we had a tout for a friend. However, he was helpful in getting us across the busy roads (no crossing lights or foot paths anywhere to be seen). He was very friendly and when we got to a hotel called Arusha Residences he advised that this was Restaurant 8 with a new name. Turned out he was right, without him we would have been completely bemused as there was no sign to say it was also a restaurant. We ended up buying a print of elephants from him for 20,000 Tanzanian (equates to $12.62 NZ).

We checked when we went in if the place took credit cards and were assured they did. We had a very nice, slow cooked lamb stew, with an African 2016 Shiraz called Leopard’s Leap which was also very nice. It was lovely seating outside, sitting in a lovely breeze.

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Dinner at the old “8” restaurant

All was very nice until “umm our credit machine is broken down, but if you give us your credit card we can do it on the internet”. Sadly, I fell for this but became increasingly uneasy as the person at the counter took the 3 code security number etc. He then said it wasn’t going through and would have to be done again. At this point I said no and pushed cancel. We were 3,000 short for the bill and said we would bring it back the next day.

When we got back to the hotel I immediately put a block on the card and checked there had been no transactions on the day. It may have been genuine but it smelled of a scam and better safe than sorry.

I had a very nice brandy and ginger down in the hotel to finish the evening off. Yay another rest day tomorrow.

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Brett’s caption: In the hotel after room service had been through. Kaye’s PJ’s were in shock, they’d never been so neatly folded

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Arusha Markets

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Arusha markets, a maze of laneways.

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Arusha markets, don’t ask!!

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Arusha Markets

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Arusha markets, hardware section

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13 March: Ngamanga to Arusha

I did not sleep that well but felt better than I expected in the morning. Today is 119 km which sounds manageable after yesterday with about 1,100 meters climbing. My only worry is the 500 meters climb from 60 to 80 km.

I had porridge for breakfast again with a couple of cups of tea.

Today first off we ride 2 km to the border to cross into Tanzania. The border crossing takes about an hour. Thankfully we get there just before the very full tour bus.

You have to get in 4 different lines. The first to show your yellow fever certificate, the next to exit Kenya, the next to pay the money for the visa to enter Tanzania, and then the longest line to get the visa put into your passport.

The border area is very clean and only people leaving or entering are allowed inside. After finishing we had to wait until the TDA trucks get through and give Tallis the tour leader enough time to get ahead flagging the route (not that hard with nothing to flag until lunch).

While we were waiting a local man was dragged kicking and screaming through us by security. We had to quickly get our bikes out of the way. We had no idea what started it as they were already carrying him as they came around the corner.

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Border crossing at Namanga into Tanzania

It was nice and cool to start off with and I was feeling pretty good. The uphills were gradual followed by down hills. We stopped in a town at about 36 km as we had been warned it was the only town until the end of the ride. We saw some other riders so parked our bikes by them. It turned out they weren’t parked by the shop, so Brett left his bike and went about 20 meters to the shop. I went and sat opposite in the shade and quick as anything a local was over by Brett’s bike. When he saw me looking he walked past, but the moment I glanced away he was back again, so I went and retrieved it and put it by my bike. A good reminder that we have to be more careful.

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Coke Stop

Once again lots of locals waiting for lifts by the side of the road, saying hello and good morning. Plus, people minding herds of animals, mainly goats and cows with a few sheep. A number of them were sitting in the shade with iPhones. There were a few small children minding herds again, even though it is a school day and we had seen a lot of children in the town before and after the border going to school.

One young boy about 8 came running across the road to high five us. We persuaded him to have a photo, he was a bit wary of us. His friend stood back on the other side of the road. As soon as we had taken the photo he held out his hand, Brett had a small coke so he gave him that he sprinted away with it. At this stage his friend came over to see what he could get so we dug out a snack bar. Next thing the first boy was back for a snack bar. We looked back and could see them 50 meters off the road sitting down to their picnic.

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Young shepherd we shared some goodies with

Once again it is very dry with dry river beds. Just before lunch at 70 km my lack of training set in and I was finding the going tough. I was hoping the rest at lunch would see me right for the 20km to the top of the hill.

For lunch we had chapati‘s with a savoury tomato sauce and cheese which was very, very nice. Plus, Lucita (called Lu Lu) the lunch cook had made fruit salad. I set off feeling positive but stopped for a rest at 2 km then again at the next 3km then twice at 1 km. At this stage I told Brett to go without me and I would keep riding slowly until the lunch truck came past. By the time the lunch truck came I was stopping every 50 meters.

I was annoyed as if I had made it another 4 km it was mostly downhill but I didn’t want to take the chance and let the lunch truck go past. I was pleased that I hadn’t as once I got into the truck I had really bad cramps in both legs.

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After lunch the climbing started

We got to Masai Camp and I dug out the bags and waited for Brett. We have 3 rest days here and rather than spending them in a tent at the Masai Camp we have upgraded ourselves to the African Tulip Hotel a couple of km away.

To get there we walked out to the road and waited for one of the local taxi cabs (called daladala) to come along. These are numerous, so the first stopped within a minute but the scout (person who hangs out the side door looking for passengers) didn’t know where we wanted to go and neither did they driver so they headed off without us.

The next one that stopped was full so we tried to wave them away. They were determined they could fit us in, plus they knew where we were going, Brett was squeezed into the front and me into the back. Our four bags were laid over the top of other passengers but they seemed good natured about it. I couldn’t believe it when they stopped on the way and managed to load yet another passenger.

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Daladala mini buses. Just have to flag them down to pick you up, always packed with passengers.

When we got to the hotel the security was not initially happy about letting the crowed daladala in until they pointed to us in the back. We off loaded, and we must have looked a sight! We had changed out of riding pants but still had our riding shirts on and were covered in dirt from the road. Suffice to say no one rushed out to get our bag. We did however have a booking and we were checked in.

We have a very nice room big with two sets of windows and balcony with two chairs. I have to keep reminding myself not to brush my teeth out of the tap! After a shower and clean clothes, we much more looked the part of hotel guests.

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Arrived in Arusha and upgraded from the camp ground to the African Tulip Hotel

The dinner is an Indian buffet which went down very nicely with a cold beer.

A number of the other riders are taking the opportunity to go on a 2 or 3 day safari to the Ngorongo crater which was created by a large volcano exploding 2-3 million years ago. This became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978. The crater is 16-19 km square area which has a lot of wildlife in it. On the way to and from the crater is the Serengeti nature reserve.

We decided not to go to the reserve or crater as we had already spent 3 days in Maasai Mara reserve. The internet advises that in the crater you won’t find any giraffe or impala and the only elephants are old bulls and leopards that live up on the rim and are hard to spot. In addition, the numbers of visitors increase year on year, in 2017 they are quoted as 601,448 which equates to 1648 a day! Lots of safari vehicles full of people all trying to see the same animals.

I understand up to 10 years ago it was much quieter but the advice is now it is so crowded that this can affect the experience. In the Maasai Mara North Conservancy where we stayed the only people who can Safari in this area are the people from the 8 lodges. There is one bed per 350 acres. A much less crowed experience. I will be interested to compare with the riders.

The other place some riders are heading is to climb in the foot hills of Kilimanjaro.

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Mountains popping up from the plain

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Long straight road, but lucky with wind at our back

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Dry flat terrain with large mountains rising steeply, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru

 

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12 March: Nairobi to Ngamanga

Woke up feeling daunted still thinking of 159 km with 1092 meters to be climbed. During breakfast we got introduced to lots of riders but can’t really remember their names. I think it will take a week or so. Breakfast was porridge with raisins in it.

Leaving the camp, we had about 2 km on a reasonably quiet road and then we hit the intersection and turned right. Chaos with cars, trucks, vans and people. The road shoulder was uneven and frequently had pot holes plus a steep judder bar every 20 meters to slow down the motorbikes.

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First day on the bike 

There were lots of people waiting to be picked up who were also standing on the shoulder or would surge onto it as you were approaching as they could see their lift approaching. This meant you had to either take your chance on the road or go off the shoulder often trying to get along an uneven hill.

There were huge trucks and cars overtaking from the other direction coming into the oncoming lane, plus motorbikes and vans constantly darting in and out. We were warned not to expect the rules of the road to be followed and if in doubt to jump into a ditch better to fall than be hit. With this reassuringly thought we navigated about 20 km of this before turning left onto a nice wide quiet road.

This lasted for about 10 km until we had 20 km of road work nightmare. We had to keep going onto very gravely roads going around the side of the new road being completed. The dust was so bad when the trucks went past that you couldn’t see in front of you.

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Lot of road works with gravel deviations

It is very dry and hot. The rainy season starts end April / early May and the river beds are dry. Passing through small towns there are piles of rubbish everywhere. It is very dusty but despite this, the clothes the local people wear are sparkling clean.

Lunch was at 75 km, where we found out three of the riders had had accidents getting through the chaos of traffic. Bob, who lives in Thailand, dislocated his elbow and will be leaving us tomorrow to go home and recover. Bob is hopeful that he will rejoin in Victoria Falls. Bob joined two weeks ago. Clint and Cartia are from Colorado and joined in Nairobi like us. They both had a fall and Clint has hurt his back but is hopeful of being back riding again after the 3 days of rest in Arusha, starting after tomorrow’s ride. Cartia is still riding but is a bit sore.

After lunch we rode for another 20 km and stopped at town for a drink. Sat for a while to cool down. Still 65 km to go.

After this we seemed to be constantly climbing up then going down a small down and then up again. Lots of local people waiting on the side of the road for a lift. Drivers going past stop and pick them up. There are also lots of people tending herds including some children as young as 7 and 8. Most people would call out jumbo (hello) and ask where you go. The small children often waved happily at us.

By 150 km my lack of training was making itself felt and I was starting to struggle but with only 10 km to go I wasn’t going to give in.

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10km to go! 

We stopped at 155 km at a service station for a drink of cold water and then got a second wind for the last 5 km.

We are staying at a camp that has showers which even though cold, are most welcome to remove all the dirt and grime.

When you get to camp on riding days they have a hot salty soup waiting for you which is helpful in rehydrating, and also giving enough calories to tide you over to dinner time.

There was just enough time to put up the new tent, lock up the bike, sort out the gear for tomorrow, and have a shower, before the riders meeting at 6pm.

Instructions are pretty easy, like today: turn left out of camp, go through one town, then a few more instructions once we get to the outskirts of Arusha at 112 km.

Dinner was sausages, salad and potato.

The other riders are friendly but currently swirl of faces and some names. I am very tired so head off to bed just before 7pm thinking I would go straight to sleep. However I ended up staying awake for a couple of hours before sleeping on and off the rest of the night.

Tomorrow we cross the border to Tanzania. I wonder how stiff and sore I will be in the morning.

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Shop at our first Coke Stop

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11 March: Nairobi – last day before ride starts

Today is all about getting ready for the ride. First up breakfast, then riders meeting with us and the four other new riders. I have met a number of riders but can remember hardly anyone’s names.

After the riders meeting I sorted out my permanent and daily bags and did the washing in a bucket while Brett put the bikes together.

Then a beef burger for lunch followed by catching up on the blog, news and emails.

Sobering news with the Ethiopian plane crash. Four of the riders caught the same plane the day before, and two of them were originally planning to come the day later.

Spent some time chatting to Shirley and Dan, catching up on the news of other riders from other tours.

All the riders look very fit having done two months of hard riding already.

Tomorrow we have 159 km and 1,000 meters of climbing eeek! Not sure how I am going to get on. Thankfully only two riding days until a rest day.

Tomorrow is up at 5:45 for the riders meeting at 6 am, then breakfast and off as soon as it is light. The traffic is very busy here and the road shoulders are not great, rough and uneven and with glass and speed bumps to stop the motor bikes. Thankfully we are riding out of Nairobi not into it.

We are going to be bush camping tomorrow so now showers or toilets.

Dinner tonight is a buffet – Beetroot soup, Cinnamon roasted pork and roast beef, Potatoes and salads, with fresh fruit for dessert.

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Below is a video of the elephants at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where we went yesterday:

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10 March: back to Nairobi, and site seeing

Sadly, we are leaving today. I would love to come back again, especially during the Wildebeest migration which takes place between July and November each year. 1.5 million Wildebeest, along with half that number of Zebra and Gazelle, come from Tanzania Serengeti National Park to the fresh grasslands of the Kenya Maasai Mara Reserve. The zebra and the gazelle come first to trim the grass to half height and the wildebeest come next and turn the areas they pass into stubble.

Ok ignore that previous comment, having spoken to Denise one of the other guides I would not like to come back and watch the migration. Whilst it would be great to watch the herds I would not like watching the killing frenzy that accompanies it. Crocodiles snatch the zebras and wildebeest as they cross the rivers and the big cats peel off the young, sick and weak. I am aware that this keeps the herds strong but don’t want to see it.

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Last breakfast @ Karen Blixen Camp

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Hippo with young one opposite camp

We left the camp at 11 and headed to the airstrip. Along the way we saw giraffe, gazelle, tobi and zebra. The plane is an 8 seater and full but despite the warning that it may be a bumpy ride it was fine and we arrived back in Nairobi on schedule. To get your luggage you were directed to the outside of the airport where you sat on a bench and waited under the watchful eye of a security guard.

Walter from Albatross tours arrived to pick us up along with Rafael. Walter is not going on the day site seeing trip so we set off with Rafael.

The first stop was the Karen Blixen Coffee garden which I was expecting to be like a cafe but was actually a pretty upmarket restaurant. As it was Sunday there were lots of families enjoying the sunshine.

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Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens

We had a very nice relaxed lunch and then we headed off to the Karen Blixen Museum. This is the second house that Karen lived in when she was in Africa from 1917 to 1931. After Karen left Africa, having become bankrupt, she never returned. Karen’s legacy lives on with a number of schools and trusts named after her.

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Karen Blixen home and museum

One of Karen’s major achievements was her care of the Maasai who she assisted with medical care and before she left Kenya she had secured a tract of land for them to live on. In the house there are a number of articles used in the film “Out of Africa” such as clothing and furnishings.

After this we headed to the Giraffe Centre founded by Betty and Jock Melvin in 1979, the visitor center opened in 1983. The Giraffe Center breeds Rothschild giraffes to release into the wild as breeding pairs. The Rothschild giraffe is endangered and when the program started there were just over 100 left, now there are over 600.

The giraffe as an adult male can weigh up to 1.5 tonne. They ward off predators by kicking and running but are vulnerable to attack when drinking as they have to splay their front legs to drink. They can see for approx. 2 kilometres so usually can check that the area is predator free before drinking. Warthog tend to live in proximity of giraffe as they have poor eye sight and use the tracks that giraffes create for getting around. Warthogs have a brain the size of a walnut and a memory span of 45 seconds!

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After this we went to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which is an orphan elephant and rhino center. So far 244 orphan elephants have been rescued. The center was started by Daphne Sheldrick in the memory of her husband David and all the work they had done to save wildlife.

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The aim is to reintroduce the elephants into the wild, which starts from about 4 years old and can take up to 5 years. An elephant has to makes friends in a herd before they will be accepted into the herd and this can take years.

Baby elephants until the age of 3 need to be fed milk every 3 hours. They spend from 6am until 5pm in the Nairobi National Park. They come back for a rest mid-day before going back out again. At 5pm they come in and go into their individual stalls for the night.

In each stall, a handler sleeps with them to feed them during the night and keep them company as elephants are very social animals. A significant amount of the funding comes from elephant adoption where you pay a few to adopt an elephant each year. You get a monthly update on the progress.

We adopted Larro who was found in January 2019 separated from her herd. To see more about baby Larro, including a video about her rescue, click here.

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Baby Larro

At the center are also two rhinos – Max who 13 and blind so will not be able to be re-introduced to the wild, and Maarifa who is 4 months old. Maarifa was stuck in mud and her mother had been trying for hours to get her out. Unfortunately, when she was rescued by locals the mother then refused to have anything to do with her.

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Rhino baby Maarifa

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Max the blind rhino

As well as looking after orphans, the center has
1. anti-pocket planes* and helicopters keeping an eye on the animals (*Editor’s note: I am assuming Kaye means anti-poaching planes?)
2. Tracker dogs that can sniff out wild animal meats, horns and products leading to arrest
3. A water program to assist wildlife in drought affected areas, they have boreholes plus temp emergency water supplies.

I really enjoyed seeing the 30 elephants ranging from 11 months to 4 returning from the reserve in the evening.

One last stop at the supermarket for supplies for the ride before returning to the Wildebeest Eco Camp. The supermarket was comparable with the supermarkets at home in size and range of products.

Once back at the camp we got our bikes and bags out of storage and took them to the room then went and caught up with Shirley and Dan. I have done 2 previous rides with Shirley and Dan: the 2015 South America ride and the 2018 Pub Ride. Great to see them again. Shirley and Dan started 2 months ago in Cairo.

We also met some of the TDA staff and fellow riders. There are 43 riders including the 6 of us joining here. The tour leader, two assistant tour leaders, chef, lunch truck preparer and driver and medic Jan from Scotland, mechanic, two drivers ,communications/ photographer.

We had dinner at camp which was a Kenyan meal with salad, beef stew, baked potato and fresh fruit salad.

Having been riding for two months already the other riders all look very fit!

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Johnathon our safari driver and guide

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Rubin our waiter/barman

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9 March: Third day on Safari

Today is my daughter Kelly’s birthday (she is the blog editor). Happy birthday Kelly.

Today we have a full day safari out of the conservation area. We leave at 8am after breakfast. I am a bit concerned as I have woken up with a very sore back and my anti-inflammatory medication is in Nairobi! The jerking around is uncomfortable and I hope that this does not turn into a full blown bad back, not being able to work without spasms. Thankfully by late morning my back had settled down. Note to self: always take anti-inflammatory medication with you.

We drive out of the conservation area into the main reserve, where there are over 200 camps. The people in these camps can’t come into the conservation reserve.

We pass the local villages where people are tending to their livestock, taking them out for their day of grazing before returning them to their enclosures at night. The wild animals keep away from the domestic animals during the day as they are aware of the humans, but would not be able to resist helping themselves to domestic animals left out in the open overnight. There a few dogs and in one garden there is a small boy about 2 playing with a pack of puppies.

We drive to the entrance into the main reserve but can’t get through as the bridge is being re-concreted, luckily there is another way in. This takes us in the other direction but it has the bonus of going past two female elephants with their young. We stayed a safe distance back but even so one of the mums came close and gave us a warning not to come any closer.IMG_7435We still had to go to the gate on the other side to officially check-in. While Jonathan was away doing that we were surrounded by three beautiful ladies wanting us to buy their wares. We didn’t have any money on us as it was held at the camp. It was a bit awkward as they were very insistent. Luckily one of them spoke good English and I conveyed to her that we had no money, in a flash she came back with “Give it to Jonathan and he can give it to us tomorrow”.

So we have some brightly coloured bracelets for the grandchildren. IMG_7437
The highlight of the day was the pride of female lions with their babies. A total of four females and 6 babies. Two of the cubs were about 4 months old, and the others about a month. The mothers feed each other’s cubs, and the cubs even from different mothers will consider each other litter brother and sisters and will live in harmony, when the males are 2 they will leave together and stay together until they form their own pride. IMG_7485
The wildlife is nowhere near as concentrated in this part of the reserve as the conservation area and we drove long stretches without seeing much. We had lunch by a river watching the hippo and three crocodiles – one was very large.IMG_7463

This is one of the crossing points of the wildebeest and zebra annual migration.

The lunch was delicious with cold chicken, beef salad and chicken salad and a nice bottle of rose. We had a good chat to Jonathan who is one of 45 children. His father had 6 wives. His mum had nine children. Jonathan has two children of his own that he only gets to see for 4 days a month, plus a month in April.

He started off in forestry school and then got in to the Karen Blixen camp programme with hospitality and worked in the kitchen, then a guide for walks, and then did the training to be a tour driver guide which includes formal training on the animals, birds and plants, and 4-wheel driving. The driving because of the rain can be tricky but Jonathan is an excellent driver. Jonathan hopes to move up in a few years to a camp manager position.

We have seen numerous brightly coloured birds, the one that was the most unusual looking to me is the Crowned Crane, which is the national bird of Uganda.IMG_7476After lunch we made our way slowly back to camp, stopping on the way to check on the lion pride and were delighted to find the cubs awake. IMG_7473IMG_7474
We got back to camp about 4:30 ready for a cold beer (even a tasteless one). I spent a bit of time catching up with the blog and then time to shower and get ready for dinner.

The shower was nice and warm, so I washed my hair for the first time since leaving Dubai. Then off to sit in front of the nice warm fire before dinner.

We had a good chat with Reuben, he is one of 12 children. His dad had two wives and each wife had 6 children. Reuben is here on a 3-month temp contract so will be out of work at the end of March, but is hoping to come back when the camp reopens (it generally shuts April and May). Reuben has two children and his mum helps out his wife when he is away.

We had a long discussion on the country and the government and the corruption and unemployment. Reuben says things are looking more hopeful with the election coming and it looks like the two main parties are going to work together for the good of the country, which hopefully is not just election talk. With all the minerals and other areas the country has to offer, there should not be the poverty and unemployment that there is. Previously the bigger tribes have worked against each other but Reuben is hopeful that this is changing and the tribes will come together to make a good future for Kenya.

Dinner was a choice of roast loin or pork or rib eye steak. I had the steak with a nice red. Then once again off to bed nicely turned down with a hot water bottle on each side.  Sadly, last night here

I thoroughly recommend this place to anyone thinking of a safari but I would advise to add one additional day just to relax in the camp. Thanks to Rachel and Nic our excellent travel agents for organizing this and the Dubai stay and the rest of the Nairobi stay. If anyone wants their names so they can book a wonderful adventure for you then let me know.

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Cape Buffalo herd

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Cape Buffalo herd

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Hyena crunching a skull

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Hippos in the water lillies

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Dropping down to camp

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8 March: second day on Safari

Today we have two Safari. The first we are leaving at 630am. We get a wakeup call at 6am, which as there are no phones in the room consists of a knock on the door and tea on a tray.

We head off – the first animal is the same lone bull elephant devouring another tree. Then the zebra, giraffes, buffalo, gazelles, and Topi.IMG_7343
This morning we also see 4 lions in the distance. First it was one peering out of the bush then walking into the clearing, then followed by another three. Then we drove to where a young male and female were sleeping in the sun a metre from our car, completely unperturbed by our presence.IMG_7376
We sat by a hyena den for about 20 minutes first watching the adults then after a few minutes, babies came tumbling out of the den. They were very curious and came very close to the car, sniffing the air around us. The adults paid us no attention at all. The hyenas live in packs headed by a dominant female, unlike most other packs or herds that have a dominant male heading the group.IMG_7356IMG_7361On the way back to camp we saw some mongoose and another family of baboons.

At camp I was amazed how much the river level had risen over night because of the rain.IMG_7383

For breakfast I had yoghurt and fruit plus eggs, tomatoes and a sausage, then had nothing to do until lunch. I had a nap and caught up with messages from family and friends. Lunch was three courses again – soup, chicken or stir-fry beef followed by dessert. I had chicken accompanied by white wine.

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Hippo and crocodile on the other side of river from our camp

After lunch I had a massage booked to hopefully help my very sore neck. What a work out, with over an hour of being pummeled and kneaded.

Then off again on safari. Once again we saw all the animals we had seen already, checked in on the lion couple they were still asleep with another male lying close by.

Jonathan told us that lions can sleep up to 21 hours a day. Lions live in packs headed by a dominant male. When the other males are about 2-3years old they have to leave the pack unless they are litter brothers. Litter brothers will live together happily throughout their life. Having two or more litter brothers as head of a pack means they are unlikely to be challenged for dominance by another male.IMG_7408

IMG_7411We saw the huge herd of buffalo again; Buffalo will kill lion cubs if they get the chance, to ensure they don’t get the chance to grow up to hunt them. They don’t kill hyena, leopard or cheetah babies. When lions, leopard, hyena or cheetah try to hunt an animal in the herd the buffalo group together and rush the animal to drive it away.

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Buffalo and zebra

We saw a huge group of baboons, about 70 at least in the trees and on the ground with lots of little ones riding on the mother’s backs.

We stopped at sunset up on a ridge watching the sunset with a nice cold glass of rose that had been provided in a chilli bin for the occasion.

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Sunset drinks. Evening thunderstorm getting close

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With guides Johnathon and Wilson

IMG_7428Once again rain is threatening with thunder and lightning so we head back to camp. Tonight we get there just before the rain starts and managed a quick shower before dinner.

Once again a nice warm fire were we sat and had a gin and tonic followed by a Kenyan meal. A very nice combination of chicken and vegetables and beef stew that had was spicy, with oven warm rolls and butter with a nice glass of red, yum. Once again Reuben was our waiter.

Back to the tent with rolled back covers and hot water bottles waiting. I could get used to this. Perhaps I should add having hot water bottles put into our sleeping bags into the next TDA feedback survey.

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Early morning safari drive

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Karen Blixen Camp

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Our tent at Karen Blixen Camp

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7 March: Karen Blixen Conservation Trust Camp

I woke up very excited to be going to the Maasai Mara on Safari. We are staying at the Karen Blixen Conservation Trust Camp. There are 13 camps only in the Conservation reserve and only people from those camps have access to tours around the conservation land. The numbers of beds at the camps are limited with most having only 13 double tents. The one we are staying in has 16 tents.

Karen Blixen was an author who wrote a book based on her time in Africa. Karen came from Denmark. Karen went on many safaris with the love of her life Denys Finch Hutton. There is a film and a book based on her life called “Out of Africa”. Karen worked hard to improve the life of the local people, especially the children.

This camp is named after her. The Karen Blixen Camp is a gold rated eco-friendly camp. In 2014 the Karen Blixen Camp Trust was created by the camps owner. The trust is committed to protect the endangered Maasai Mara eco system through conservation, community development, and education programs. These range from
1. The Mara elephant helicopters protecting the elephants and gently moving them away from human populated area and ensuring poachers are aware that they are there watching
2. The education initiative providing 18 months education for the local Maasai aged 18 to 25 in food cooking, business, language and information technology (there is a cooking school based at the camp)
3. Women’s programme which offers support with business opportunities, financial counselling, and vocational training
4. School for 320 children aged 4 -15
5. Movable Bomas (fences) to avoid over grazing and human to wildlife conflict
6. I was also delighted to know there is a dog project providing vaccination, worming, treating for mange, and spaying and neutering.

We were up at 7 and off to breakfast, greeted by our friends the dog and cat. The choices for breakfast were eggs with spinach, omelet with spinach, or yoghurt and fresh fruit. I decided to go with yoghurt and fresh fruit. Good choice – there was no spinach and the omelet was tiny and shiny looking.

We got into conversation with another dinner who told us she has had her flight delayed by two days due to the disruption and is hoping to get out today.

Back to the room to get our bags and discover the safe won’t open! I am pretty sure the manager will have an override key for when guests forget what password they set. Thankfully they do and the safe is opened. Then we headed off to meet Walter who was already there, along with Mike, to take us to the airport.

Walter wasn’t exaggerating when he said the traffic is busy. There are cars, vans, trucks and heaps of people walking. There are queues for every intersection, some controlled by policeman. Talking to Walter about his country is sobering. The unemployment rate is approx. 50% and there is no unemployment benefit! In Nairobi there is a slum of approx. 800,000 people most of whom have no employment. There is sometimes work for the day at some businesses so the men will work the 7m or so there to wait and hope to pick up a day’s work for 2-3 dollars and walk the 7 k back home.

Most of the businesses are owned and run by Indians who work hard, but by preference will always employ Indians.

The schools are overcrowded with up to 100 children per teacher and health care is spasmodic. The workers can pay into a health insurance but there is a lot of corruption. Walter will have months of contributions not show up as having been received. In the past year his records show 3 admissions to a private hospital he was never at. Walter is happy to have a job so he can feed his family. It’s hard to imagine a system with no social welfare assistance and no work opportunities. No wonder the crime rate is high.

We are lucky today the traffic is better than normal and we arrive at the local airport having only taken 35 min to get 10 km. I am pleased to find the plane is a 16 seater and not smaller.

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Leaving Wilson Airport, Nairobi for the Masai Mara National Reserve

We have a 45-minute flight with 3 stops before our destination. When we are up in the air you can see how very dry the area around Nairobi is. We get further out and it starts getting greener, about 20 min into the flight instead of cows I start seeing zebra, giraffes, a small herd of elephant and various gazelles. It is fantastic.

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Mara North Airstrip

We land at the Maasai Mara and Jonathan from the Karen Blixen camp is waiting for us. The camp is about a 35-minute drive. On the way we see lots of giraffes and zebra and a range of gazelles. The camp is located right by a river which has a resident herd of hippo submerged, a couple of crocodile on the one part of the bank, and gazelle further down the banks.

 

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4 takeoffs and landings later we arrive at Mara North Airstrip

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Plenty of wild life on drive to camp

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Drive to camp

Before going to our tent we have a very nice lunch. Fish and vegetables and buns with the option of cheese cake for dessert. While we were eating lunch we were amused by a baboon who jumped across the boulders in the river to come and clean up the bird feed from the bird feeders. Whilst he was eating he kept a constant watch on us before bounding back across the river.

IMG_7283The tents are amazing they are big with a wooden floor, chairs to sit in inside and out on the deck. There is a separate bathroom and a secluded outside shower. The tent is also by the river. IMG_7284.jpg
At 4 pm we meet Jonathan to take us on our first safari. We have come at the end of the season and there are only 2 other people staying at the camp so we are lucky enough to be going on the safari by ourselves.

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Bikes and bags locked in the security cage at Wildebeest Camp, off on safari

The local people call the Maasai co-existed in harmony with the wildlife. They had their own domestic animal stock and didn’t eat the wild life. However due to increasing population and changing times they have charged their nomadic life and settled at the edge of the Maasai Mara. The Maasai have made a deal with the government – the wildlife are protected and they get revenue from the land the camps are on, plus a portion of the tourist revenue. Poaching is a major offence is Nairobi, punishable by death. Selling wild animal meats or parts is also an offence. Because of this, poaching in this area is extremely rare.

I had imagined we would be going on the safari in a closed truck or at least in cage but we are in an open buggy type vehicle. First off we see more giraffes and zebra including a number of babies. Due to the all year round warm climate, for most of the animals there isn’t a breeding season.IMG_7289

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Afternoon storm building up

IMG_7294We saw a lone bull elephant eating an acacia tree. The tree branches have very sharp leaves which doesn’t bother the elephant, these are their favorite tree. It is very interesting to see the way they use their trunk, tusks and feet to pull the tree apart. We also saw a huge herd of buffalo with numerous babies. The babies are born with long legs in comparison to their body. The legs are as long as their parents, so when they are in a group the predators can’t spot which are the young to target them.

We saw lots of brightly colored birds and more hippos, plus warthogs and a family of baboons. The highlight was a female cheetah with her three offspring, sun bathing on a small grassy mound. The family didn’t seem worried by have a couple of Safari cars close by. A park warden was there in the background in his car making sure that nobody came too close and disturbed them. IMG_7304
We also saw Thomson Gazelle, Elands, water bucks and wildebeest. There were lots of Topi nicknamed “blue jeans and yellow socks” due to their colouring on their back legs and hooves.IMG_7326IMG_7293
On the way back to camp, all of a sudden the rain that had been threatening arrived and pelted down with thunder and lightning. We were only a few minutes from camp but were soaked by the time we arrived, we had planned to have a shower as the water is hot from 6 am to 930 in the morning and evening, but with thunder and lightning and the rain bucketing down we decided not to have an outside shower. IMG_7327
Dinner was at 730. Before leaving your tent in the dark you have to ring your bell for one of the security staff to come and get you, as the tent is not fenced and wild animals can be found around the camp. Inside the main area there was a nice warm fire where we had a gin and tonic before dinner. We have our own waiter called Reuben plus a room attendant called Daniel.

The staff here are very welcoming and wanting to do everything they can to make your stay pleasant. When you arrive, and each time you come back from safari, you are met with a warm welcome, hot wet towels, plus an umbrella if it is raining.

There is a 3 course meal. Again I have the soup and the chicken and pass on the dessert option again. It’s lovely and peaceful, no TV or loud background music plus only two other guests. Included in the stay is red and white wine and beer, if you want anything else you just add it to your tab.

When we get back to our room the bed is turned down and there is a hot water bottle tucked into each sleeping space. Very warm and cozy tucked in, going off to sleep listening to the hippos.

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Sunset

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6 March: Dubai to Nairobi

I had to get up twice but both times got back to sleep ok. We were provided a torch so you can check you are not going to step or sit on any critters. The beds had great big thick covers which kept you nice and cozy, despite it getting increasingly cold in the desert once the sun goes down.

The sunrise over the sand dunes was stunning. After breakfast we went for a drive through the reserve, seeing herds of animals – quite a few busy eating their breakfast around troughs. The troughs are put in different places each day so the animals have to walk around looking for them.IMG_7216.jpg

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Desert Arabian Oryx

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Desert feedlot

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Desert gazelle

Then back to the hotel to wait for the pick up to the airport an hour later. The guy from Arabian Adventures who picked us up spoke nonstop all the way to the airport. Nice guy, but I am pleased he wasn’t the guide for the overnight tour. Azeeze who was the overnight guide talked a bit but mainly in response to you asking him questions.

Azeeze was born in Dubai but is not an Emirati citizen, so will have to leave at 60. At this time, he will have to go to his home country of Bangladesh, even though he has never been there. He can speak the language and has relatives there. It seems a harsh system but I guess with Emirati citizens only making up 2 out of the current 9 million, it is a way to stay in control of their own country.

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Leaving the desert camp with tour leader Azeeze

Once at the airport we quickly retrieved the bike boxes and despite it being a huge airport we only had to go up one floor to the check in. We got to the check-in in plenty of time but the check in person took 45 minutes to process us. We had had to pay excess baggage from NZ so he spent ages finding out if we had to pay it again from Dubai (we did). Despite Brett being able to take 12 kg more than me as he has silver status with Qantas, and the airlines being affiliated, this wasn’t showing up on the system: after 40 minutes he advised he couldn’t find this out but we could ring Qantas. At this stage we just wanted to make sure we could catch the plane!

So we said we just wanted to pay the excess. We were told to go over to the cashier and pay and they would give us the boarding passes. We lined up there, initially relieved just one couple were in front of us. However, they had a long argument about the amount they had to pay. Finally, we paid – ouch! But they would only issue Brett’s boarding pass, I had to go back to checking in.

One look at the line and I went straight back to the same person. I was surprised to see our bags and bikes still there, given he had said we didn’t need to come back again. By this time, I was getting stressed, as we still had Customs to get through and that line was so long it was back through the terminal! Thankfully the check in person took us through to the front of the line. We got to the boarding gate 15 min before they started boarding.

Getting onto the plane was interesting – our row (25) was full of other people. We enlisted the help of the flight attendant who moved the lady in the window seat, who it appeared had just decided to sit there in case in wasn’t booked. One guy was meant to be in the row in front. The other guy stands aside for us to get in, and I say to him – thinking he is the B seat passenger – that if he likes he can sit in the window seat, rather than in between Brett and me as we are A and C. He insists that he is in C which is where he is going to sit. Once again I enlist the help of the flight attendant, turns out he is actually 43 B (so he had his row AND his letter wrong!).

The plane was very full but luckily no one arrived to sit in B. The flight to Nairobi is 5 hours which seems short compared to the Sydney to Dubai.

There were a couple of big security looking men who kept switching places at the front of the cabin, surveying the plane, which was a bit unnerving. Unfortunately, they had moved away when I had my next interaction with Mr 43 B. He came back to get his overhead luggage, and as he opened the door to it a bag fell out onto me, giving me quite a fright. He then gave me an another fright by reaching over and patting me on the shoulder. As I get a fright, I jerk away and he starts telling me I am unwell. At which point I start saying quite loudly to get away from me. I was concerned he would come back, so I rang the bell for the flight attendant who came and advised she would get her supervisor to come and talk to me but they never did.

The only other drama on the flight was a woman collapsed a row over, but thankfully seemed to be ok and was helped to her feet after about 30 minutes and was taken into the business area.

We were worried that due to the late checking in of our bags and bikes they may not arrive in Nairobi with us. When we arrived, the airport was chaos. We had been blissfully unaware that there had been a strike and the police had become involved using tear gas etc. Ours was one of the first flights in. The airport is a stark contrast having come from Dubai were everything is on a huge scale.

Thankfully after 30 minutes our bags and bikes arrived and we then had to join the huge queue to go through Customs. There was one scanner and despite there being one line most of the locals go to the front, which then formed two lines with people still going straight to the front. With bike boxes you don’t have that much maneuverability, so we were stuck in a line that barely moved. It took two hours from the time we landed to getting outside of the airport.

Thankfully no sign of Mr 43 B, and even more thankfully the pick up from the Albatross Travel tour company was waiting patiently for us.

There was ongoing chaos outside the airport, people everywhere, and cars and vans trying to get into the very small pickup strip. We had to wait while the van came from the parking building which took about 15 minutes, then we had to walk far enough up the road so there was space to be picked up. Then we had problems fitting both bike boxes in the van. They both could not go in long ways or length ways, just when I was thinking we would have to get another vehicle they managed to get them both in by opening the roof of the van. Lucky the van had an opening roof as otherwise we would not have got the boxes inside.

It was from George and Walter that we learned all about the strike.

After the 4 to 6 lane, well lit streets of Dubai, Nairobi is very dark and the streets seem very narrow. The Wildebeest Eco Camp that we are staying at is 25 km away. Walter advises us that we are lucky that there is not much traffic, as it is now after 9 at night. In the morning the 25 km trip could take up to 2 hours.

We got to the camp which is surrounded by high walls with a security guard on the entrance. Walter is coming back to pick us up tomorrow to take us to the airport for the flight to to the Maasai Mara for the Safari. The local airport is 10 km away and the flight leaves at 10:30 but we have to be ready to be picked up by 8am as due to traffic it can take over an hour or more to get 10 km.

We put our bikes in the camp storage and were shown to our room. The restaurant was shut but we were told the bar is open till 10:30, where we can get a drink and a snack. As it was nearly 10 we decided to head there before a shower. We had heard a lot about how unsafe it is in Nairobi with theft, so we put our valuables in the safe before leaving the room.

When we got to the restaurant it turned out the available snacks consisted of bags of chippies. Luckily the bar tender, seeing our look of dismay, cooked us up something that looked and tasted like samosa. This was washed down with a tasteless lager. We were kept company by the resident dog and cat. The cat made itself at home on Brett’s knee and the dog made himself comfortable against my leg.

Back to the room where we still had to pack our bags for tomorrow. We are only able to take a carry-on bag on the plane. At this stage I discovered that I didn’t do my usual check of the hotel room before leaving Dubai, and have left one of my favorite tops plus my travel stockings hanging up in the wardrobe!  Never mind, they will have travel stockings in Cape Town.

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One night at the Wildebeest Eco Camp

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