Thursday, July 05, 2012


I thought a few people might be interested to hear thoughts on my somewhat recent safari.

Ngong Hills
I started in Nairobi and built in a spare day in case GF's flight was messed up. It wasn't, so we spent the day hiking around in the Ngong Hills. If the guidebook tells you anything about them, it's probably that they're not safe and you need a guide. Perhaps true, but only if you get there early enough in the morning that you want to hike more than 5 miles or so.  Otherwise, just get a bus to Karen Connection then the 128 to Ngong, turn right at the only intersection in town, curve up behind town, and start walking up the hill across from the police and KWS station. It's all uphill from here. There's an obvious guard station after a mile or so where you have to get a guide/guard if you want one. They're stupid expensive, so don't bother. The next 3 to 4 miles are free and safe. The ridge gives you great views.
I basically hate everything about Nairobi except the restaurants, so other than eating at the Egyptian place behind the Coptic hospital, Ngong is all we did. We left for Lamu the next day. It was pretty clear that renting a house is the thing to do, so I asked around and a friend knew a guy, and he set everything up. We had a very cool large old house to ourselves for $70/night. There's not much to do in Lamu. Wander around narrow streets, take a boat ride, ride donkeys, and search through stacks of old bootleg DVD's in the closet for the least bad movie (a Timothy Dalton Bond). Sometimes the beach is gorgeous, sometimes it's rainy season and there's a storm off shore and there's one of the highest tides of the year and the water is super choppy and not at all inviting and there's literally not a single other person on the beach and it's apparently not the safest thing to wander too far from the village. So Lamu was still fun, but maybe Zanzibar would have been better. That's twice now I've decided against Zanzibar. Third time's the charm.

Mt. Kenya
Three nights in Lamu is plenty, and we flew back to Nairobi. We hired a taxi to Thika, which has no Elspeth Huxley charm left to it whatsoever. Four matatus later the next day, we started backpacking form Chogoria. God I love backpacking. The instant we started walking and I knew I'd be able to walk until it got dark and sleep wherever I ended up, I was ecstatic. We entered the forest reserve that afternoon and saw a few monkeys. The next morning we entered the national park and kept climbing. We camped at about 14,000 feet. The altitude was rough on GF, but we summited the third day. You'll have to ask her for her excuse for being Californian, loving Modoc (next to Shasta), and growing up next to San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, yet never having been higher than the top of Half Dome.

The Chogoria route we took up is fantastic. The Sirimon we took down is mediocre. The whole park is quite littered with plastic bottles. Still, I definitely recommend it, more so than Kili, because you don't have to take a guide if you go in a group. Definitely hike the Chogoria route though.

After Mt. Kenya we had planned to go to Meru National Park, but I thought it would be too brushy to see game, and GF couldn't remember why she originally wanted to go there, so we changed course and went to Samburu. I really like the northern part of Kenya; the environment is ridiculously harsh. After a fun hour waiting with a bunch of qat-chewing dudes, we squeezed 25 people in a matatu and made it to Isiolo. We tracked down a Land Cruiser (I want one!) for the next day, and spent it driving around Samburu and Buffalo Springs. We saw no lions, but lots of everything else. Crocodile sex, for example.

Safari ants interrupted our camping that night, but otherwise our return to Nairobi was uneventful. We spent only enough time to buy french fries, then headed to Lake Naivasha.

Lake Naivasha
We spent one night at Camp Carnelly's, a backpacker's place on the southern shore of the lake. The next day we hiked up Mt. Longonot, which is the most volcano-y volcano I've ever seen, with a perfect crater and a trail all the way around it. We then spent two nights at Sanctuary Farm, which is a working dairy farm that's overrun with zebra, impala, gazelle, giraffe, water buffalo, water buck, and wildebeest that you can go horseback riding amongst. Hell, you can just go walking or running amongst them too. It's on the lake, and right next to Crescent Island, which had wide open vistas and big open fields where you can pretend you're Farley Mowat running naked with the caribou, except with your clothes on with wildebeest. We didn't make it to Hell's Gate National Park, so I'd like to go there some day. The lower gorge is closed after children were killed in a flash flood.

The two largest highways (Nakuru-Eldoret-Malaba, and Mombasa-Nairobi-Kisumu-Busia) in Kenya are probably also the shittiest. Don't ever take them in anything smaller than a full-size bus. The Nakuru to Kisumu stretch is currently about half dirt diversions. Once the construction work is finished on that half, the other half will be in horrible shape because the construction companies I'm sure will only lay down 1/3 of the asphalt they're supposed to and they only got the bid in the first place because they're buddies with some MP. 

We did however finally make it to Kisumu and had dinner at the Yacht Club (they let the riff-raff in on Friday, I'm going again tomorrow). We wandered around the rusty old port the next morning and GF finally saw a hippo, if barely.

GF hung out at my place while I went back to work. She bought me some pretty plants, but failed miserably in her attempt to buy me a sheep.  She convinced me that baba ghanoush is dip worthy of sharing the same table as hummus. We rode my motorcycle to the rain forest, then she went back to the US, where George and I will be headed on August 12.

Since then I made sauerkraut, rode my motorcycle 800km, ran a marathon, watched the Jacques Mesrine movies, and did a ton of work.

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