A Kenya/Tanzania Photo Safari:
Part 1: Nairobi to Mt. Kenya
©2002 Corbin Ball Associates
Saturday 9 March 2002
Twenty-four hours of flying from Seattle, to Amsterdam, to Nairobi brought my son, Aaron, and I to an entirely different world. After negotiating a hot and crowded visa/passport control at Nairobi international airport (NBO), Henrietta from Express Travel Services was a welcome sight for our 9 p.m. arrival. The reception area was packed with people waiting to meet the full load on the KLM DC-10.
My son, Aaron, and I met our driver for the next few days, George. We were efficiently whisked in a Nissan safaris "mini-bus" to the stately refuge of the Norfolk Hotel, a Nairobi classic since 1904, the host to U.S. presidents and other heads of state. We collapsed in our beds for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday 10 March 2002
We woke at 7am to the first of many English-style buffet breakfasts, this time in a covered veranda overlooking the interior gardens of the hotel. After repacking all of my business clothes in one suitcase for storage, Aaron and I met George promptly a 9:30am for a wild ride to the Mt. Kenya Safaris Club about 90 miles north of Nairobi on a winding kaleidoscope journey of people, markets, goats, bicycles, ox-drawn carts, store fronts made of gathered materials and hand painted signs. People everywhere were eking out a living. Many nicely dressed in old suits or brighly flowered dresses. Everything was for sale from bags of charcoal to bananas.
The scenery soon changed from third world urban (belching trucks, packed matutus, and pinkish-brown rivers) to very lovely rolling lush green hillsides with coffee plantations, pineapple, flower farm hot houses, with lots of produce evident. We went through several small towns – beehives of activity as the brick-red dirt roads lead to hundreds of small fruit and produce stands made of twigs and small tree branches. “Hand-made” hotels, butcher shops, bicycle repair shops provided the backdrop as we whizzed by at 100 kph.
We stopped at a small tourist shop with a sign outside denoting the equator. It was filled to the rafters with African carvings, art and other tourist trinkets with eager salesmen trying to get us to part with some of our money. Several other local people were sitting in the shaded porch out front and after a brief conversation, one asked us about the Golden Gate Bridge – how long and high it was. The conversation was interrupted by a downpour as we dashed for cover in minibus.
The terrain dried out into a savannah as we turned left onto a bumpy road for about three miles to the gates of the Mt. Kenya Safari Club, built in the 50’s by actor William Holden as a base for he and his cronies to shoot African wildlife. The large stately Tudor-style mansion with several outbuildings and manicured grounds, teeming with Marabou storks and ibexes, is a wonderful elegant place to start a safari. At 7,000’ the air is cool a night, the rooms are great (we stayed in William Holden’s suite – a separate cottage with two bedrooms and a large living room with bar), and it is the last outpost of civilization from the game reserves to come.
We arrived just after noon, checked in and spent most of the afternoon at the animal orphanage on the grounds. This was about the most exotic petting zoo you could imagine. We fed the sticky tongued bongos with their beautiful twisted horns and coloration, ostrich, crested cranes, zebroids (a rare hybrid of zebras and horses). Our expert guide shook the food can to get the pigmy hippos to open their giant toothed mouth for the alfalfa-pellet treats. The African porcupines were at the back of their cage, but our guide went in to grab a long, black and white and very sharp and sturdy quill.
As we went over to the colobus monkey we found all were eager for attention. There smaller ones were out of the cage and, with some food enticement, climbed on our shoulders and even my head.
Georgie, a vevert monkey with iridescent blue genitals provided much amusement within a few minutes begging, threatening, ignoring us based on whether we had food or not.
Speedy Gonzalez, the 137 year-old tortoise liked is leathery neck scratched as is moved like molasses around the yard.
Among my favorites were the cheetahs. Lithe, thinly athletic and built for speed, they are the fastest of terrestrial animals.Our guard carefully entered the cage to lure them out. He made a hasty retreat as they pounced into view, and as he ran along the outside they sprang to a blurring full speed in to chase him from the inside.
One of the favorites was the bush baby which our guide brought out of the cage for Aaron to hold. With huge eyes, it sat nervously until a sound spooked it from Aaron’s grasp to bolt back to its cage.
We then saw two white rhino, Big Mama (pregnant) and a male. Both are always guarded against poachers, and a 4-strand electric fence separated us from them. Rhinos are not animals to be messed with. Their horns were at least 2 feet long and backed by 2 tons of irritable and sometime fast (30kmh) power.
We exited through the hotel vegetable gardens, past two amorous running ostriches chasing each other in circles, to our cottage suite. As we changed for dinner, an attendant came to light a fire in the fireplace to take the chill off of the cooling evening.
Aaron and I had several very thoughtful conversations during the evening about the world’s problems (overpopulation, the president/political system, the war on drugs, the school system, the poor diet of the American public, the church, the power of the conglomerates, and more) on our way through a good 6-course meal in the main lodge. We turned in by 10:30 p.m. to get rested for the next big day to Samburu.
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