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I first visited Nairobi in 2007 with Ericka. Coming off a week-long safari, we needed to find someplace to spend the night before flying onward, and found a mid-range hotel on the edge of town closest to the airport, where we spent an awful, noisy night listening to the adjacent bus terminal and sweating on questionable sheets. Morning came soon enough, and we hoofed it out to Jomo Kenyatta airport and got on with our lives. No metropolitan center can compete with the magic of one's first visit to the Masai Mara or Samburu National Park, but Nairobi was a necessary evil to that trip, not a destination.

Two years later we passed through on the way to the Seychelles, and stayed with friends in an upscale, gated community burgeoning with diplomats and expat aid workers. The houses were lovely, with manicured green gardens sparkling under the tropical sun, and their shaded interiors whispered of hard woods and cool evenings. But the traffic we experienced getting across town to our friends' house! It was shocking.

I found myself in Kenya a third time ... and then again ... Continue reading "Nairobi"

Plugged in on the African Savannah

It's been two hours since the sun set over Kenya's Masai Mara, and deep in the African savanna our little group of safari goers is settling into our tents, shaking out our sleeping bags, and looking over our gear. Other than the rattle of crickets in the underbrush, there is practically no sound at all, with the exception of ...

the 10,000W diesel generator blasting dark, acrid smoke across the camp site and pumping desperately coveted electrical current into a set of surge protectors and the unbelievable diversity of chargers, battery packs, and electronic devices that needed charging. We don't travel the way we used to. Continue reading "Plugged in on the African Savannah"

What Sound does a Baby Elephant Make?

Interesting and worthwhile opportunities to get to know big game animals abound just on the outskirts of Nairobi. We had visited Kenya in 2007 and enjoyed the Masai Mara, Samburu, and Lake Nakuru. Just over a year later we were passing through Kenya on the way to the Seychelle Islands and took advantage to visit some friends. We were only off the plane for two hours before we found ourselves at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the AFEW Giraffe Center and Valentina was eye to eye with both baby elephants and full-grown giraffes. Continue reading "What Sound does a Baby Elephant Make?"

Kenya Ni Yetu

Kenya ni Yetu ("Kenya is our country"): We saw these bumper stickers everywhere, and I saw it at least once painted on the side of a roadside shop. Kenyans clearly have a great love for their nation and with pride comes the essential drive to improve, something many nations wallowing in misery could clearly stand to gain. We enjoyed Kenya as well. Here's why. Continue reading "Kenya Ni Yetu"

Sleepy Time in Samburu

Day breaks over the Samburu National Park in an auburn glow that seeps up over the mountain tops and warms the dry earth. We mix powdered coffee and grill bread over the fire, clear the dishes, and set off to experience life in the African scrubland desert. From under the bushes baboons creep stealthily towards the campsite to see if we've left them anything interesting. The day previous a baboon on commando raid crept among us over to the steel food box, lifted the lid, and ran off with a full loaf of bread before we could react. We found him later tearing off the crusts and stuffing slice after slice in his mouth, looking around furtively and probably wishing he had a glass of milk. Continue reading "Sleepy Time in Samburu"

The Masai Mara

We reach the Masai Mara just before nightfall, at the end of a road that degenerates from bad to just about non-existent. "We've taken a shortcut," says Peter, who is at the wheel. It was uncomfortable but afforded us some time in the Masai villages, among dark eyed women toting bundles from straps that stretch from their foreheads and tall, dark warriors wrapped in scarlet cloth, daggers gleaming from their belts. Cattle is their life, and their cattle are sleek and gorgeous.

We spend the evening with our newfound traveling friends and break camp in the early morning for the amber rolling grasslands of the Masai Mara. There, the challenge is choosing in which direction to cast my gaze, because there is vibrant, scintillating life on all sides of us. We stumble upon a cheetah early on, already chewing deeply into the meaty hindquarters of a young impala. She looks up only long enough to survey her observers, and returns to her meal satisfied we are no threat, which we are not. We find elephants everywhere, traveling in small herds with their young. They astonish us in their ability to remain invisible despite their bulk: they are the color of shadow and as silent as a memory. Continue reading "The Masai Mara"