This week has been full of some experiences that I will never forget! I don’t even know where to start! I just finished uploading all the pictures onto my computer and it still feels so unreal to me that we just went on an African safari! I haven’t blogged for a while, I have a lot to catch you guys up on!
In the beginning of last week we went to an orphanage down the street from our compound. It was so odd to walk from a paved road that is lined with apartments and buildings to a dirt road covered in trash, lined with makeshift huts made from either mud and wood, or pieces of scrap metal and rope. As we walked, we passed little kids playing in the yards where the grass wasn’t even visible there was so much rotten waste, and they waved at us with an excited “jambo” and we waved back trying to mask our emotions to what we were seeing. One thing our group has always kind of chatted about was how different the poverty here in Kenya is compared to the US. The slums in Mombasa and the different communities we’ve seen are very humbling and continually remind us about how much we take for granted at home. The average Kenyan lives on 100 schillings a day, which is a little over a dollar. The orphanage we went to takes care of about 75 kids who either have one parent or guardian or are orphans. They provide them with meals that they otherwise wouldn’t have, the care that the absence of parents can’t provide, and also a primary education. Before we even made it down the street towards the small mud hut we had little kids crowding us, grabbing our hands and leading us into the door with bright smiling faces. They had us sit at one end of the room, facing all the kids, and the kids burst into welcome songs and dance, and before they were done they grabbed us from our chairs and taught us, jumping, spinning and twirling around us. For the time we were there they put on little skits, sang songs, told us Kenyan nursery stories, and even performed a fashion show! But of course we didn’t just sit and watch, they had us join in! The fashion show was absolutely hilarious, they had us strut out into the room and perform some silly pose in front of their giggling faces! Then they put the spotlight on us and had us do the hokey pokey with them and the Macarena! We did this for hours, and the room was so hot and the floor and walls were made of dirt so by the time we walked out our Elective Africa shirts were covered in dirt and sweat. The last thing we did in the orphanage was take pictures with everyone and it was so fun to interact and talk to the kids, they were just hanging on all of us, asking for picture after picture, it was so adorable! The school was looking to take steps forward and try to improve what they had for the kids. Joel, one of the students participating in the Elective Africa program set up a fundraiser for the school and is looking to spend a lot of time at the school for the next couple weeks, covering the walls in cement, adding some windows and gathering money to try and give a salary to the teachers that now are just volunteers. It was an incredibly touching experience, and we all can’t wait to try and visit again before we leave!
That afternoon, our program coordinator had planned swimming lessons with some of the older kids from the orphanage. So some of the kids from the orphanage grabbed our hands and walked with us back to our complex, and jumped into our pool! We had a few of our students that were either lifeguards or knew a little bit more than the doggie paddle (haha…soo not me….) teach the kids how to swim and they were just loving it, and a couple of them caught on really quick and were floating around like it was nothing! The kids stayed for the entire afternoon, we passed soccer balls with them, and they played on our swings, they just had endless energy!
Wednesday night we all gathered our stuff and received our itinerary for the safari weekend. Thursday was going to be a long travel day to Nairobi, so we had to stock up on snacks and charge our iPods and cameras for the long 8 hour bus ride. We started our trek to Nairobi at around 9 in the morning on a big bus with a couple other tourists and people traveling. I thought weaving through traffic with a tiny tuk tuk was scary, but weaving through with a giant bus was petrifying. The drivers here are fearless! We were taking curves at crazy speeds, almost balancing just on two wheels, hitting speed bumps and slamming on the brakes and alternating that with flooring it. Thank goodness the ride back today was completely different because I don’t think I could have taken another experience like that one! When we arrived in Nairobi we got to our hotel that was called the Milimani backpackers center, and it was where a lot of people that go on safaris or trips to climb Mount Kenya would stay before they took the different tour vans to their destinations. We were shown to our rooms where 8 of us slept in one room with bunk beds. It was quite the bonding experience!
That night we were all starved from only munching on granola bars and potato chips all day so we freshened up and went to a nice Italian restaurant in the city. It was so interesting to see Nairobi, it was the complete opposite of Mombasa, it looked just as industrialized and modern as any big city in the United States. There were skyscrapers and star hotels, the capital building, and apartment complexes. The restaurant was pretty fancy and it was so delicious! Exhausted from a day of traveling, we weren’t even at our final destination yet! We went to bed early preparing for yet another long day on Friday!
The drive the Massai Mara game reserve was a 6 hour journey, four hours on a normal road, and two on a super bumpy road. We were picked up by our safari vans and figured that our safari wasn’t going to be the smoothest ride because our seats rocked back in forth to help try and absorb the bumps. We were warned about the rough two hour road, but nothing could prepare us for what it actually was. The one thing that I could compare it to is going on Excalibur at Valleyfair, that rollercoaster hurts its so rough and bumpy, well take that and multiply that by about a hundred, this road was insane! We had to maneuver through ditches and we were constantly tossed around and slammed into our seats! It was actually kind of fun at first! By the time we got to our campsite, there was a layer of dirt everywhere in the van because the roads were so dusty! We passed village after village and had to stop for cattle or goats that were crossing the roads. Our camp consisted of tents under little roofs, it was so neat! We slept on little cots under mosquito netting, we got the true safari experience that’s for sure!
As soon as we got to the camp they told us to drop off our stuff and we were already off to our first trip into the park on our first night safari! Our vans transformed, the roofs came up over the top and all the windows were opened and ready for us to peak out with our cameras.
I was absolutely AWE-STRUCK by everything we saw. We went on a short one Friday night, then were out in the park from 7:30 to 4:30 on Saturday and on Sunday we saw the sunrise in the park! We saw four our of the five animals in the big five (the rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah and buffalo), along with ostriches, giraffes, hippos, elephants, wildebeests, zebras, vultures, hyenas, crocs, everything!! This time of the year is prime time to witness the migration that happens from the Serengeti. It was unbelievable the amount of wildebeest, zebra and other kinds of antelope that surrounded us for miles and miles around. We drove for hours and the numbers never dwindled, millions of them surrounded our van! Our driver gave us short little facts about each animal we saw, and he loved to answer all our questions. It was a blast to stick our heads out the top and hold on for dear life as we zoomed through the park. It was hilarious when we all figured out at the end of the day when we took off our sunglasses how dirty our faces got. We all looked incredibly tan, only it wasn’t from the sun! We all were just covered in dirt by the end of the day! The drivers communicated through a radio, and whenever one spotted something, all the other vans were alerted. It was really fun because whenever there was news of a lion spotting or something, our driver just floored it, on the hunt! Chasing lions and cheetahs! The park was beautiful! There were rolling hills, and the sun peaked through the clouds in long yellow rays. It was covered in those cool trees that are so stereotypical to safaris, and we passed vans full of tourists with their huge cameras with lenses that were ridiculously long. On Saturday we went so far into the park that we were by a river that separated Kenya from Tanzania, so we were literally 50 feet away from Tanzania!
On Saturday night we got the opportunity to visit one of the nearby Massai villages. One of the men of the tribe lead us through his village, showing us each their houses, and where they kept the cattle and goats during the night away from the lions and predators that come out of the park at night. They showed us some of their ceremonial dances and had us join in. For the men they have a ritual for marriage where the men compete to see how high they can jump and the higher they jump the less dowa they have to pay for their wife. A dowa is a payment of the family’s cows to give to the woman’s family that the man is going to marry. They said that some men had more than 9 wives! The women showed us a song and dance that they do for celebrations where we lined up and swung our arms back and forth. They also showed us how they makes fire with sticks and use that as a way to give themselves tattoos too, so a couple of our guys got little burn tattoos on their arms! One thing that was crazy about the village was that they all came from one grandfather! They hunt lion with spears and little Massai machetes, and a boy becomes a man when he hunts and kills his first lion. The lion is then made into a hat for the man to show off his victory. Some of the people in our group actually got to buy some swords from the people that they kill the lions with!
We caught the sunrise on Sunday morning after a nice cup of Kenyan tea (soooo good, definitely something I’m bringing home!). When we were done on Sunday and packing up to go home, it was such a sad feeling, the safari was such a blast! What a memory!
Sunday night we were back in Nairobi, and the program recommended that we try going to a restaurant called Carnivore, which was supposedly one of Africa’s most famous restaurants and Kenya’s best one. I am SO glad we went! It was the coolest restaurant I have ever eaten at and the best meat I’ve ever had EVER! It was an all-you can eat style restaurant where they sat us down at a table and started us off with soup, appetizers, bread and salad with all different types of dressings. Then the real fun began, they came around with meat roasted on giant Massai swords and carved off chunks of tender meat onto our plates in front of us. We had pork sausage, turkey, beef, prime rib, chicken, ribs, even ostrich meat, crocodile, and ox balls!! The meat only stopped when we surrendered and took our flag down in the middle of our table. We were all stuffed and super uncomfortable our stomachs were so full!!!
This week it’s back to the hospital! Can’t believe we only have four days left here! It went way to fast, wish I could stay longer! We still have so much to fit in and do this week before we go, it’s going to be a busy week!