Posts Tagged ‘Nairobi’

 Souvenirs and Memories Go Home With Me


One final serengeti sunset -- Photo by Pat Bean

“Any traveler who doesn’t return from a trip a changed person has taken only half the journey. Step by step, I went the entire distance.” – Pat Bean

African Safari:

So sad, I thought, as the last day in Africa drew to a close. Just as the wildebeest had started their migration, so must we migrate back to our homes in America, for which I truly had new appreciation.

I'll miss Africa's bright colors, and the beautiful faces of the Maasai women. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Or I could write an entire blog about our flight being delayed three hours, leaving us with nothing to do but browse the airport’s souvenir shops because there was no place to sit.

Kim and I both thought this was a well thought-out ploy to make sure tourists didn’t take any money out of Africa, although we willing obliged the shop owners because we both had family and friends back home who expected presents from our adventure.

These things were minor in comparison to the memories we were taking home with us. I’ve been fortunate that during my life I’ve had many fantastic adventures. I’ve paddled down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, visited the Galapagos Islands, which prompted Charles Darwin to write “Origin of Species,” and spent a couple of days on Miyajima, what many consider Japan’s most beautiful island.

Hadada ibis in flight. This was both the first and last bird I saw in Africa. -- Wikipedia photo

This African safari, however, topped them all. As I finally got to lean my head back and relax once we boarded the plane I thought of all the things I would miss. The list included our wonderful guides, educated men who watched over us and showed us the best parts of their country.

I would miss the sunrises and sunsets, and knew that I would understand the next time I read or heard someone talking about Africa’s amazing light. It really does have a special glow to it.

One of the black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater that we did not see. -- Wikipedia photo

And oh how I would miss Africa’s colorful birds. I had added 182 lifers on this trip, the final one being a bronze mannikin flitting around the garden at the Karen Blitz Cottages. I wondered also if there was some hidden meaning in the fact that both the first and last bird I saw in Africa was the hadada ibis. I haven’t figured that one out yet, but for some reason it seems important.

I would miss Africa’s wildlife, much of which is disappearing. Kim and I were told we were fortunate to see it while it was still there. I hate to imagine an Africa without big cats, zebras, elephants, wildebeest, jackals, hyenas and all the rest.

And I'll miss the funny antics of baby baboons that tease and then run back to their big dads for protection. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Just the fact that we saw no black rhinos does not bode well for the future. Where in the 1960s, there were about 70,000 of them, today there are less than 3,000, and they are considered endangered. Their decimation has come about because of their horns. The Chinese want them for their perceived medicinal properties, and the Arabs want them for their elaborate daggers. One the black market, a rhino horn is worth thousands of dollars, too big an incentive for subsistence farmers to resist. 

And I would also miss the cacophony of color that I saw everywhere, from Africa’s red earth to the clashing colors of the robes and clothes worn by the Maasai. I’ve always thought bright colors are joyful, and wondered why so many Americans – definitely  not me – mostly choose to wear drab colors. It’s as if we want to blend into the background and not make a statement about who we are.

Africa awakened new insights in me that will color the rest of my days. Travel, I have learned, is as much about discovering oneself as it is about seeing new sights. Anyone who doesn’t return a changed person has taken only half the journey.

Step by step, I traveled the entire distance. And I want to go back.

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 “Between the great things we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing.” Adolph Monod

Final Breakfast at Little Governor's Camp. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

African Safari: Karen Blitzen Museum

Joseph got us back to Little Governor’s Lodge in time for breakfast, where Kim and I ate the last of those great little sausages that had become a breakfast standard since first we had them back at the Norfolk Hotel.

As usual, breakfast here was served beneath the open sky with a grand look at the swamp in front of us. It was full this morning with sacred ibises, rufus bellied herons and white-faced whistling ducks, which were in fact whistling.

At the landing strip with Joseph and the "Kids" from London, Frankie and John.

All too soon, however, it was time to gather our belongings and make out last crossing of the Mara River, where we would be met by Joseph for the ride back to the tiny airstrip where we would catch our fight back to Nairobi.

In Nairobi, since our flight back home, didn’t leave until midnight, we would check into the Karen Blixen cottages to spend the rest of the day. Like most of the tourist hotels in Nairobi, this one was located behind guarded gates.

After lunch, I wanted to go curl up on the bed in our cottage suite, and take a nice long, and I thought well-deserved nap. Kim wanted to walk a half mile down the road to the Karen Blixen Museum. I suggested that there were guarded gates around our complex for a reason but Kim would not be deterred.

Our ride back to Nairobi touches down. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I certainly wasn’t going to let her go wandering off by herself, so off we went, two white women in a sea of black, sometimes scowling faces, walking on the edge of a narrow road. This was the real world, not the sheltered tourist wonderland where we had roamed for two weeks.

I was nervous at first, but then relaxed and went with the flow. I’m so glad I did.

Blitzen as Isek Dinesen, wrote “Out of Africa,” which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

“”I had a farm in Africa,” her book began. The museum was that farm, and we were told it is little changed today from what it looked like then. Blitzen turned the farm into a coffee plantation, and because it provided jobs was much-loved by the locals.

Minutia from the Streep and Redford movie was mingled in with the museum’s displays. But it was the one huge photo of Blitzen, slender and sophisticated and smoking a cigarette in her later years, that captured my attention. It made me think of Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis’ fictional aunt whom I’ve always admired. .

Kim in front of Karen Blitzen's home, which was the setting for her book, "Out of Africa." -- Photo by Pat Bean

There’s a mental game I’ve often played that calls for you to name six people you would like to invite for dinner. Margaret Mead, Carl Sagan, Shirley MacLaine, John Muir, Maya Angelou, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sean Connery, Gloria Steinem, Gandhi, Golda Meir, Agatha Christie and Charles Darwin, among others, have all at various times received mixed and matched invitations.

I added Karen Blitzen to my address book today.

Still digesting the things we had observed during our visit to the museum, the walk back to our day cottage actually seemed pleasant.

Later in the year, Kenya would erupt with protests about electoral manipulations after President Mwai Kibaki was re-elected. Nairobi would see some of the worst violence, and over 800 people were killed during the protests.

Kim and I, in a long-distance phone conversation, both expressed thankfulness that the riots hadn’t occurred while we were there. Suddenly our State Department’s travel warning didn’t seem as trivial. While we had both enjoyed flirting with danger while on safari, the violence humans can inflict on one another was not the kind of adventure we would ever want to impinge on our memories.

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 “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

African Safari: From Nairobi to Kilimanjaro

This is a view of Mount Kilimanjaro that Kim and I did not get to see. I post it so as not to disappoint readers, including one who was looking forward to seeing it,. The Wikipedia photo was taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

Our plane to Tanzania from the small Wilson airport on the outskirts of Nairobi was a Twin Otter with single seats separated by a narrow aisle that held much of our luggage. It was a bottleneck one late-arriving passenger had to stumble through to sit down.

The aircraft’s non-uniformed, Anglo pilot, a grin on his weathered face, twisted around and gave us our flight briefing. He ignored the luggage. It was as different from our KLM attendant’s memorized agenda on our flight to Africa, as our scrumptious breakfast at the Norfolk was to the in-flight meal we were served in a paper sack on boarding.

The entire lunch consisted of a slice of zucchini, a slice of carrot and a leaf of lettuce on a miniature hamburger bun.

The meal reminded me of the sign noting that millions of Kenyans lived in poverty that I had seen on arrival in the city. Just how thankful some people would be for just such a meal was impressed even more on me as the plane flew over an area of Nairobi where salvaged crate box homes were crowded on top of one another.

I decided right there and then that there would be no complaints from me during my stay in Africa. Kim had the same reaction.

Meanwhile, my seat near the front of the plane gave me a pilot’s view of the 50-minute flight. I could easily tell I was not flying over the United States. The landscape below lacked the tidy borders of fences, parallel streets and plowed fields that consume Americans’ sense of tidiness.

But by my own personal criteria and desire for adventure, today’s flight was perfect – even though Mount Kilimanjaro was hidden by clouds, both from the air and when we landed at the tiny Kilimanjaro airport near its base.

“Perhaps it will be less cloudy tomorrow,” said our pilot as he bade us good-bye. I think he was more disappointed than his passengers. Kim and I were already thinking about our  next leg of the day’s journey, one in which all traffic rules, if there were any, were broken.

Next Episode: The Chaotic Drive to Arusha

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The Norfolk Gardens

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” Ernest Hemingway

African Safari: Rum and Chocolate at Midnight

A hadada ibis. -- Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

As late as it was, and as tired as we were, Kim and I weren’t ready for bed when we finally got checked into the Norfolk Hotel. We stood awhile on the balcony drinking in the night air and looking out over a lush garden beneath us.

Then we raided the room’s mini bar, making ourselves a couple of Captain Morgan Jamaican rum and cokes, and toasting ourselves on the adventure we were about to begin. There’s something to be said for not being rich enough to be well-traveled. The excitement of finally getting away to strange and exotic places that once existed only in your dreams is delicious – as was the small box of “Out of Africa” chocolates that we ate with our midnight drinks.


We were met in the evening and seen off the next morning by the Norfolks Green clad doorman.

It all felt a bit decadent. But I loved the feeling. .

The next morning I roamed through the hotel, where it seemed the décor and furnishings were of another era. The Norfolk Hotel opened on Christmas day 1904. It is said no other hotel in Kenya captures as much of Nairobi’s past. President Teddy Roosevelt, Lord Baden-Powell, the Earl of Warwick and the Baron and Baroness von Blixen are all part of the Hotel’s history.

And so is Ernest Hemingway. As a writer, I got a thrill peeking into the bar where he is said to have sat for hours at a time. I was only brought back to the present day when I observed a maid talking on a cell phone.

Out in the garden, I saw my first African bird. It was a hadada ibis, and a dozen or so of them were hanging out in the garden’s trees. I identified it using the East Africa bird guide Kim had given me for my birthday earlier in the year.

My second and third lifers (bird species seen for the very first time) were a baglaflect weaver and a pied crow.

I was as eager to see birds as I was to see Africa’s more famed four-legged wildlife. So much so that I occasionally annoying to my traveling companion, who likes watching birds but was more excited about Africa’s four-legged wildlife than its winged species on this trip.

A modernistic wildlife scupture on the University of Nairobi campus. -- Photo by Pat Bean

There’s the possibility I might also annoy my blog readers. It’s a risk I’ll take, however. I came to Africa to see birds every bit as much as to see lions and elephants.

Pied crow -- Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Kim joined me in the garden, and we went into breakfast, which included some yummy African sausages that we would eat many times again during our African stay.

Afterward, we took a short walk on the grounds of the University of Nairobi across the street from the hotel. Our stroll was accompanied by a black kite flying overhead, whose sighting I added to my daily bird log.

And then it was off to the small Wilson Regional Airport for our flight to Tanzania to begin our safari for real.

Next episode: A view of Mount Kilimanjaro

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 “When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat Moon

African Safari:The Dark Continent Beneath Our Feet

Nairobi skyline at dust. It was all so different, and colorful, and chaotic. I loved it. -- Photo courtesy Wikipedia

A nine-hour, cattle-car flight – well that’s what it feels like if you fly economy – deposited us in Amsterdam, where we caught an eight-hour connecting flight to Nairobi, Kenya. We had left Houston at 3:30 p.m. on August 19, but with the 17 hours of flight time, a short layover and the eight-hour time zone difference, it was late evening on the 20th when our feet first touched Africa.

A Pollman’s Safaris’ driver met us at the airport for the ride to our hotel. He stuffed our luggage and six other passengers into a van that had seen better days. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a single vehicle in Nairobi that didn’t look like it had seen better days.

But the color and intensity of Nairobi at night stirred my blood, as did our driver who would have put a New York taxi driver to shame when it came to dodging oncoming traffic as he zoomed in and out among vehicles that seemed to follow no set rules.

The word Nairobi comes from the Maasai phrase “enkare nyorobi,” which means the place of cool waters. The city, founded in 1899, is better known however as the Green City in the Sun, or the Safari Capital of Africa. It has a population of about 3.5 million and is the fourth largest city in Africa.

The other three pairs of travelers, who had flown in on the same flight as we had, were each staying at different hotels, and they were dropped off first.

The Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, where Robert Redford and Meryl Streep stayed while filming "Out of Africa."

At one of the hotel stops, guards looked under our van with mirrors. At the next stop, the Stanley Hotel, there was no such safety precautions and we could hear partying and music coming from inside. It sounded like a fun hotel.

As we drove through the city, I observed a sign that said 16.7 million Kenyans live in poverty. In contrast we passed huge well-lighted Toyota and Yamaha factories. More interesting, however, was one car driving on a flat as if nothing was wrong.

Like Dorothy, we weren’t in Kansas, or Texas, any more.

It was about 10 p.m. when our driver finally took us past a guarded barrier to let us off at the elegant Norfork Hotel. The precautions emphasized the travel warning to Kenya which Kim and I had chosen to ignore.

The armed guards made the warning seem more real, but any fleeting thoughts of danger quickly faded when we were graciously greeted to the quaint hotel by a doorman in a long green coat and a tall green top hat.

Next Episode: Hemingway Slept Here

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Life's "no problem" when you're cruising Jamaica's Black River. -- Photo by Pat Bean


“Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” Groucho Marx

Travels With Maggie

Lonely Planet’s lead article in this month’s newsletter (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/us) features one day itineraries for five cities: Barcelona, Toronto, London, Paris and Istanbul.

I wanted to both scream and cry at the audacity of such a notion. The thought of spending so few hours in these fabulous cities, which I’ve not yet visited, made me quite sad.

Then I thought about places I’ve visited when circumstances only allowed me a single day, like Jamaica, Guayaquil, Fairbanks, Glacier National Park and Nairobi. While each of these places deserved more than a mere day to explore, there would be some big holes left in my experiences if I had missed them.

George, the alligator that responded to the Black River boatman's summons. Honest! -- Photo by Pat Bean

In Jamaica, which I visited while on a Caribbean Christmas cruise, I spent several hours in a giggley-jiggly bus with a guide explaining the sights and Jamaica’s “no problem mon” attitude, then took a float trip down the Black River where egrets ganged up in mangrove trees and an alligator named George came at the boatman’s call. Honest.

Guayaquil was the Ecuadorian starting point for my trip to the Galapagos Islands. Here I was served chicken and watermelon for breakfast at the quaint Andaluz Hotel before taking a walk on the city’s beautiful Waterfront Parkway. That night I watched the stars come out from a rooftop restaurant that overlooked the Guayas River.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, I spent a night at a quaint bed-and-breakfast and then the better part of the next day at the fantastic University of Alaska Museum before moving on to Denali National Park .

Glacier National Park in Montana was a detour when I drove the Alaskan Highway. The main event here was simply driving the awesome and scenic 57-mile Going to the Sun Highway. The frosting on the  entrée was a grizzly bear that stopped traffic. Fortunately my halt offered a good view of this magnificent creature.

Nairobi, Kenya, was the starting point for my magnificent two-week African safari. Here I stayed in the same hotel favored by Ernest Hemingway, explored the grounds of the University of Nairobi, which was just next door, and toured the home (now a museum) of Karen Blixen, alias Isek Dineson and author of “Out of Africa.”

I guess if that’s all you have, one day is quite enough. But I sure hope that if I ever get to Lonely Planet’s big five that I have more than 24 hours to linger.

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