Sunday, May 13, 2007

Africa Trip - Mt. Kenya

Where to begin? Perhaps in London where I was privy
to a "crayfish and rocket" sandwich. Rocket...good

Upon arriving in Nairobi, me and 250 other
passengers were greeted with the news that the cargo door on
our British Airways 747 was jammed and that no one in
Nairobi could get it open. Please. Like a bunch of
Africans can't get a cargo door open on a plane...with
a screwdriver and a hammer. So no one got luggage, I
waited in a line for 2 hrs to have BA customer service
say they didn't know when the bags would arrive and
the plane flew back to London to have its door opened.
Next morning, BA told us the bag would be there that
night, so we hung out in Nairobi, postponed Mt Kenya
and waited for my bag. Of course, the next day BA
told us the bag was lost and they couldn't track it, so
we decided to go on safari and leave Mt Kenya until the
end of our trip.

Renting a car in Kenya is not like renting a car in
the civilized world. Of note: Tires in Africa are
not tubeless and so the car rental agency gives you a
tube to keep in the glove compartment. (How I could
change a tube without tools was beyond me) Also, one
doesn't just turn a car on in Kenya. One first has to reach
under the dashboard to find a small, hidden button
that when pushed, allows the ignition to turn on. I
was then shown how to circumvent this switch by
slicing two wires together under the hood.

Then, in our Suzuki Maruti, we left for Hell's Gate
National Park. Driving on the wrong side of the road
is the easy part. Shifting with the left hand, while
driving through rush hour Nairobi, that's hard. In
Hell's Gate we saw baboons, giraffes, elephants,
zebras. Very few people go to Hell's Gate and there
is definitely the feeling of of being "out there". We
camped above a plain filled with zebras and some
gazelles. Next day we hiked into some canyons, drove
looking for animals and enjoyed some fine mangos we
purchased for ten cents.

After a couple days, we headed back to Nairobi,
hoping my bags would arrive and we could head to Mt Kenya.
At this point I'm still wearing the same clothes I flew
over in. Of course BA still has no idea where the
bags are, so we decide to head to the Masai Mara for our
second safari and hope the bag arrives later. The
Mara is a simply stunning place. It's one of the few
places I've been to that lives up to its reputation. There
really are animals everywhere. A few brief
highlights: In Yellowstone, when people see a moose or a bear,
they like to get out of their cars for a closer look.
In the Mara, when people see a lion, they roll up
their windows and cower. Lions are big. Really,
really big. We saw lions mating from 10 feet away, and when
they roared I felt small and helpless. When one of
the lions walked by our car and looked at me, I almost
shit myself. We saw hippos battling in a river,
jackals on the prowl, gazelles playing and were
engulfed in an elephant herd.

We would camp at night. The first night we were
offered an "ascari". (guard) This was a Masai
warrior with a spear who would keep us safe from animals. I
thought it was overkill until a flash of lightning
illuminated a pack of hyenas crossing the road.
After that, $5 for a guy with a spear seemed quite

On our last day in the Mara, our first piece of bad
luck befell us. After filling up on petrol, Aly
turned the key to turn the car on and snapped the key off
in the ignition. Not a good thing to happen in Nairobi,
much less in the middle of nowhere Masai Mara. We
thought we were screwed. Various workers from the
filling station tried to help, but to no avail. By
this time it's raining again and we're starting to
thing we're going to be stuck. Just then a short,
stocky Kenyan wearing brown, stained coveralls,
emerged from the rain carrying a screwdriver and a
pair of pliers. It was then that I knew we'd be ok.
This guy had game. It took him 10 minutes. Price for
having your car hotwired in Kenya? $20.

So it was back to Nairobi to find that BA still
couldn't find my bag, and that I was still wearing
the same clothes I flew over in. Luckily at 3am our
hotel phone rang and it was BA saying they had the bag. So
with that, we left for Mt Kenya.

Mt Kenya is a long walk in. Starting in a rainforest
with bamboo and monkeys, ending in a rockscape with
small marmots called hyraxes, 25km and 11,000 feet
of elevation gain later, we found ourselves at high
camp, hanging out, waiting for the next morning's summit
attempt. Up until this point, I'd been feeling
great. Elevation was no problem. I was even carrying water
in 10 gallon jugs for the porters. 8 hrs later, I was a
cripple. I awoke to acute mountain sickness, and it
ain't fun. Splitting headache, severe nausea,
diarrhea......lovely. So we decide to leave high
camp at 16,000 for camp 2 at 14,000, hoping to feel
better. Unfortunately, I never felt better and we ran out of
time to try again.

So what did we learn in Kenya? African TV has no
commercials. They have the best mangos on earth and
the cost a dime. Everyone in Kenya is incredibly
nice and friendly. All Kenyans think Bush is an idiot and
they all love Barack Obama. If you're gonna be
trapped in a hut on Mt Kenya during a deluge, be trapped
with a Brit. We laughed the whole time and now I
understand cricket. In Kenya, you can play soccer with 30
people on a side. Road repair in Kenya consists of 10 guys
shoveling dirt from the side of the road into
potholes. Kenyans carry everything on the back of a
bike. Everything...including an entire bed frame.

Africa may in fact be the coolest place on earth.

For more pics of my Africa trip:

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