September 5-18, 2015 - Kenya
For my full Kenya photo album (only 150 amazing photos) visit here - Kenya Flickr Photo Album
Or for all the Kenya videos - visit here - Kenya YouTube Playlist
This Kenya trip has been a long time coming and it's still kind of hard to process that I just got back from Africa! My best friend, David, grew up in Nairobi and we've worked together since 2009 while traveling for our jobs. Over hundreds of dinners on the road together, listening to his stories about Nairobi, Village life, his family, etc, I just couldn't wait to go see it with my own eyes. So finally, years in the making - Kenya - and Continent #6 - are checked off my bucket list!
It's hard to figure out how best to describe this trip. Kenya is still a very third world country, in many parts that we saw, and it was just a lot to take in and process. Some of the moments that got to me:
But now, as you read below - I'll share some of my other great memories from Kenya - the unbelievable Masai Mara safari experience, relaxing along the Indian Ocean coast at Galu Beach, watching the most amazing sunset over Lake Victoria and finally meeting David's family in the village.
Day 1 & 2 - September 5-6
I departed from Houston just before noon on Saturday - flew through D.C. and Zurich - and finally landed in Nairobi at 6:40pm on Sunday. After going through customs, which just took about 40 mins, David and his brother-in-law, Eric, were waiting outside for me. We sat down and waited for our friends Ryan and Eve to arrive. At 9pm we left the airport and into the crazy Nairobi Traffic we went. We got to Nancy's (David's sister) house just after 10pm and had a small meal she had prepared for us of beef stew and rice. Then we drove nearby to the apartment (Daykio at Chania Apartments) that we had rented for the trip; unpacked and went to sleep after a very long travel day.
Day 3 - September 7
This morning around 9:30am we walked over to Yaya Centre mall, which was just a 5 minute walk from our apartment, and had breakfast at Artcaffe. I would quickly learn that security is everywhere in Nairobi. To gain access to any building you generally walked through metal detectors. Driving into a parking garage - your car was inspected. Every apartment complex had an electric fence / barbed wire, a gate, and round the clock security guards. Pretty impressive. After breakfast there was a grocery store at Yaya, where we grabbed some items for the apartment, and then walked back. The rest of the day we explored Nairobi. David drove us to his primary school, Milimani, and to his boarding school, Lenana. We swung by the bank, and then picked up his sister Nancy from work and had a late lunch at Urban Eatery. Around 6:30pm we drove over to the Best Western hotel, one of the few American chains in Nairobi, and had a dinner and drinks on their roof top bar.
Day 4 - September 8
This morning we woke up at 6am, David made us breakfast at the apartment and then the safari guide picked us up at 7am. We had to drive across town to pick up the safari organizer, Steve, and since it was morning rush-hour traffic it took forever! Finally around 9am we had our driver, the trip organizer and our chef for the trip and we began our long drive to Masai Mara. We drove for an hour and stopped at the Great Rift Lookout point for a view of the impressive valley. From there we drove another 2 hours and stopped in Narok for lunch.
We had a king bed plus a twin bed. And in the back of the tent through a flap, there was a real sink, toilet and shower. You only had electricity for about an hour in the morning and a couple hours at night...but it really wasn't needed except to charge up your camera battery. We had an hour to relax and then at 4 we headed out for a introductory game drive. Our safari van had a pop-up roof, which was great to both feel safe that an animal wasn't going to attack you and also to stand up and take photos. The driver drove all around (more bumpy roads!), stopping at any time we wanted to take photos. That afternoon we saw wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, cape buffalo and lions. The lions were the best part of the day. We caught 2 lions and 3 cubs relaxing on a rock. The mom was nursing her cubs - it was really cute. And the cape buffalo just cracked me up - those horns...it looks like a bad wig! To finish off the day we lucked out with a great sunset just as we were leaving. We got back to camp at 7pm and dinner was at 7:30. After a very long day (the core workout from that bumpy drive is nothing to joke about!), I showered and was asleep by 9pm.
Day 5 - September 9
Our full day Safari! I was really excited about this day...as it was one of the main reasons I was going to Africa. And to be there in September during the Migration was extra exciting. We were up at 5:30am, breakfast at 6 and we left for safari by 6:40am. We entered the game reserve just like the day before but today as we had more time they really went back far into the reserve, which provided more animal sighting opportunities. Basically from 7am to 4pm we were in the van, driving over more bumpy dirt roads, and stopping continually to take in the sights and capture photos.
Memorable events of the day:
Overall, our total animal list we saw that day - Wildebeest, Zebra, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Leopard, Giraffe, Elephant, Hyena, Gazelle, Vulture, Ground Hornbill, Jackal, Crocodile, Hippo, Warthogs, Baboons, Topi, Ostrich, Agama Mwanzae.
Here are a few of my favorites photos (more amazing animals are in the full Flickr album) from Masai Mara -
And a couple videos to try and give you a taste of driving around in the Masai Mara.
Day 6 - September 10
Today we got up at 6:30, ate breakfast and packed up the van with our bags. Just before 8am one of the Masai village guys met up with us and we walked over to his village. The walk was just over a mile, which was nice after sitting in the safari van the last 2 days. Along the way he showed us some plants they use for various things like deodorant, sand paper and brushing their teeth. Once we got to the village the guys performed a welcome dance for us. And then Ryan and David got to join in and hilariously attempt to jump as high as the Masai guys were. I'm pretty sure the Masai guys were not even trying. Inside their village we saw their cattle, sheep, how they make fire and got to go inside one of their homes. It's truly hard to believe they live in those tiny mud homes. The women also performed a dance for us at the end. BTW - the hat the guy is wearing in the photo is from the lion he killed. You cannot get married until you kill a lion. Guys...aren't you glad you live in America?!
During the visit I was most intrigued by the little kids running around. The entire village is basically mud and cow dung and to see all the kids, dressed in their probably one outfit - dirty and full of holes - running around barefoot playing in that mess was tough. And yet despite that - just to observe how content and happy they all were. The little boys in the distance trying to mimic the older guys in the 'jumping contest'. The little boy sitting with his siblings letting out the best laugh that you couldn't help but smile along with. Or the little girl in her pink dress hugging her very dirty teddy bear...realizing at the end of the day that all little girls just want the same thing.
It was so interesting talking to one of the guys who said the furthest he had been from his village was the city of Narok (population 40,000) and it was so overwhelming he never wanted to return. He then proceeded to ask us if we know everyone in our towns, which we all laughed at. Talk about different worlds..
We left the village at 9:45 and headed out on our long drive back to Nairobi. We stopped several times for short breaks and ate at the same restaurant in Narok that we did on the way there. We finally got back to Nairobi around 4:30. That night I wasn't feeling well after most likely eating something bad, so I stayed at the apartment while the others went out to eat dinner.
Day 7 - September 11
This morning David cooked us breakfast again at the apartment and at noon our taxi picked us up to go to the airport. Our flight to Mombasa took off at 2:40pm and we got there by 3:45. By 4 we were out of the tiny airport and our driver was there waiting for us. So Mombasa was just insane! I'm glad I got to witness it once in my life, but I really hope I never see it again! So many people, traffic and trash everywhere.
And the ferry was nuts! It took over an hour to get on the ferry, and while we were waiting in line to board we were just mesmerized by the thousands of pedestrians cramming onto the ferry. We were told over 250,000 people ride the ferry per day. It's only a 5 minute crossing, but such a long process.
Once we made it across we continued our drive to Galu Beach (just past Diani Beach). Right before we got to the house we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some items for the house. We finally made it to Monkey Villa (our home away from home for the next 3 nights) around 7pm. The villa was pretty amazing - almost overwhelming it was so big! 3 stories, 5 bedrooms, verandas, pool, beach access and our own personal chef! Plus round-the-clock watchmen who patrolled the property with a machete and club. Our chef made us dinner from the chicken and pasta we bought that night, and it was just so great after the hecticness of safari to sit out on the patio at the dining table and enjoy the fresh beach air.
Day 8 - September 12
A full day of R&R at Galu Beach! I woke up around 8 and immediately wanted to walk down to the beach. It was beautiful - white side, hardly anyone in sight. I'm glad I went out there in the morning, because the light for this photo with the arched limb is one of my favorites from the whole trip!
The beach was beautiful, but you had to strategically plan your walks. First of all, never go alone - safety. And secondly, watch out for the "beach boys". They would spot you from so far away and start coming over trying to sell you anything and everything. So the best plan was to make sure no one was around, go to the beach, spend less than 10 minutes and as soon as you saw them getting close, walk back up to the house. Once you were on the house property, they could not come up and bug you.
Our chef prepared us breakfast, and we ate out on the 2nd floor patio table. We were done eating and just sitting there when a monkey came into the house! You just have to watch the video to appreciate it. Totally made my morning!!
After our monkey excitement (which happened several more times over the trip) I spent the next few hours laying by the pool and taking walks to the beach. For lunch our chef cooked us freshly caught white snapper with rice and cooked carrots and green beans. It was amazing! More R&R in the afternoon. There were a couple dogs around the property that definitely had the good life, and they would hang out with us on occassion by the pool! I love this photo at the beach of one of the dogs playing in the water, with the boat and man nearby. White sand beach, beautiful water, blue sky and puffy clouds...perfection of a day.
It was interesting watching the tide from morning to late afternoon. I've never seen a tide come in that far to the point there was no beach left...the tide came right up to the stairs of our property.
For dinner our chef made us fried calamari - another amazing meal. I wanted to take this chef home with me! I was really exhausted...from doing "nothing" all day and I turned into bed around 9:30.
Day 9 - September 13
Another wonderful day of R&R at Galu Beach. Lounging, reading, pool time, a walk to the beach. After breakfast from 10-1, Ryan, myself and Eve had massages lined up from the "massage lady" we met the day before. For only $10 I got an hour coconut oil massage in a lounge chair situated between the pool and beach. Heaven! More pool time and then we had lunch. As we were finishing up David spotted camels on the beach, so we went out there to check it out. The guys stopped at our stairs trying to sell rides up and down the beach, and of course David and I said yes. Touristy camel ride - check! Ok...so back to pool time and then finally we all got ready for dinner. Tonight we actually left the villa for the first time. We had dinner reservations at Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant and they picked us up at 6:30. The restaurant was really nice...actually built into a cave. We had a great dinner, good wine and made it back home around 11pm.
Day 10 - September 14
Today was a long travel day. Our taxi picked us up at 6:30am and by 8:40 we got to the Mombasa airport. Our flight departed at 10:10 to Nairobi, and with an hour layover our next flight to Kisumu took off at 1. We arrived just before 2pm and David's cousin, Zach, picked us up and we drove to our hotel - Royal City Gardens. We rested for a while and then at 5 we went out with Zach to grab a drink and dinner. Our first stop was at a bar on Lake Victoria. We enjoyed a Tusker beer and watched the most amazing sunset over the lake! It didn't look like it would be that great of a sunset - a bit too overcast, but then before we knew it the whole sky was hot pink - wow! After that we drove to Kiboko Bay to have dinner and then called it a night.
Day 11 - September 15
We left the hotel at 10 to head to David's mom's house in the village. We got there just before noon, after a grocery store stop along the way. The village was very interesting to drive through - mud houses with metal roofs, people out and about, little markets every now and then. The hardest was seeing the adults and kids washing clothes or bathing in spots of water along the way. We finally made it to David's mom's house and surprisingly it was very different than most of what we had driven past. There was a gate to drive through and the house was very nice. No running water, but she did have electricity. We met everyone (it was so great to finally meet David's mom! And his brother, Brian). David gave us a tour of the property, and then we visited in the living room for a while as they were finishing up lunch preparations. David's nephew, Emmanual, provided great entertainment for us! Lunch was served around 2pm - and talk about a feast! Beef Stew, Chicken, Fish, Rice, Salads, Chapati, etc. It was amazing. Big kudos to David's mom and sister for the long hours involved in making that meal!! Around 3:30 we all drove over to some nearby land that David's uncle wanted him to look at. That is where our photos are taken from. And then we headed to the airport. We boarded our very short flight back to Nairobi, arriving at 4:30. That night we ate dinner at Uptown Grill, that was owned by a friend of David's.
Day 12 - September 16
Our last couple days in Nairobi were pretty low-key. We walked back over to Yaya Centre Mall this morning for breakfast at Artcaffe. Later we drove over to a mall that had a Masai Craft Market, where we honed in on our bargaining skills to buy souvenirs. We had a late lunch at a place near the mall, Galito's, and then headed back to our apartment. That night we tried out an Italian restaurant, Mambo Italian, which ended up being really great. Dinner and a bottle of wine later, we called it a night.
Day 13 - September 17
Out last day in Kenya. We walked back over to our go-to spot for breakfast at Yaya Centre Mall. This time eating at Nairobi Java House. After that we drove over to Junction Mall where they were having the big Masai market. We met up with Nancy (who was our pro bargain shopper) and did some final souvenir shopping. This market was much bigger and fun to walk around. Except for being yelled at the whole time "hey sista sista...come look at my stuff". They also had a musical group there - playing the drums and dancing - which just reminded me of the Rugby Sevens games in Vegas with the Kenya team! After shopping we grabbed a quick lunch at the mall and headed back to the apartment to pack. We left at 4pm to go over to Nancy's house. Visited for a bit, including getting to meet David's brother, Kevin. Then around 5 we drove to the airport for our flights home. 31 hours later, on Friday September 18th - I finally made it back to Houston!
What an amazing trip to Kenya that I will never forget! Thanks to David for showing me so much about where he was raised, letting me meet his family, changing gears and being a "tourist" in his own country going on his first Safari and first trip to the coast, and most importantly keeping us all safe! I'm cheers-ing you with an imaginary Tusker beer right now David. :)