30 December 2008

Epilogue, or, Back in the U.S.S.A

I've been back in the US for about a week now and one of the questions everyone asks is 'how is it being back'? The short answer is that it is great, its been really nice to relax with the family and talk (not just gchat) with some of my good friends.

While the transition back has been very easy (except going back to work), there have been a few striking things. The first was the sheer quantity and variety of food in my parents fridge(s!), though to be fair I am impressed by that whether coming back from Africa or DC. Its also been amazing to have some of the small things back: fast internet (I downloaded a whole tv show in like 2 minutes!), potable tap water, free refills, sidewalks, etc. There were a few restaurants I was really looking forward to (cricket, chipotle) which were fantastic, but just as fantastic were the things that I wasn't expecting (string cheese, yoohoo).

I just finished a drive out to California which provided a bit more US vs Africa perspective. Through Colorado and Utah the snow covered landscapes were incredibly beautiful but also incredibly cold (-5F which is like -20C), something you don't get much of in Africa. Vegas is an astonishing strange place (I'd like to see a sociology experiment where they drop some African villagers in Vegas and see what their reaction is, or take some Vegas whales and drop them in an African village). The roads in the US may be the number one thing we take for granted (the little road my house is on in Denver is in better shape than the main road in Kenya) and no one walks anywhere, whereas throughout Kenya, no matter how far you are from a town, there is always someone walking down the side of the road, often loaded down with water or firewood.

The last thing I'll mention is a sign of society gone a bit too far, and that is red left turn signals. They are the most annoying thing in the world (well, not quite) and I sincerely hope Africa never installs any.

26 December 2008

A month in bullet points

While I promised I would put up more stuff from the last month, I am feeling quite lazy so you'll have to make do with some notes and photos. Maybe once I take that voluntary separation I'll put some more in, but for now, enjoy!


  • Great Thanksgiving in Lusaka - turkey, stuffing sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie!
  • Timebus (because there are non-time based busses) to Livingstone breaking down
  • Zambian side of Vic Falls - walking on the falls, water raising, wading back


  • 100,000,000,000 Zimbabwe Dollar note (thats 100 billion)
  • Bringing food into Zim - bread and cheese for five meals
  • Lion Walk
  • Rafting, swimming, hike up 1,000 ft canyon walls
  • Zimbabwe side of Vic Falls - much bigger, rainbows


  • Border: shoe disinfectant and condoms
  • Chobe - 100's of elephants, surrounding the truck, dousing themselves with mud, 2 day old baby, kudu, crocs, eagles, lilac breasted rollers, carpet of green, fresh downy smell, campfire, stars, black backed jackals, bacon
  • Hammock at the camp
  • River / booze cruise - tons of hippos
  • 4am wakeup, Maun for supplies, passing time - name the states, name the countries in africa, name the 4 letter countries, name the countries that end in L
  • Okavango - hot! poled in mokoros (canoes), hammock, water polo, pointless walks, marshmallows, passing time, hippo yawn, rain, thunder, lightning, 2 by 2, jingle bells, rudolph, angels, waltzing
  • Volleyball and NARB


  • Big night at Thebe, big beers, shots, tending bar, late night swimming
  • Etosha - nice campsites, springboks plonking, giraffes humping, rhino, massive cloud to cloud lightning, lions roaring
  • Nice campsite with grass, singing xmas songs in the rain, then in the women's bathroom, then at the bar, getting yelled at by Hans
  • Cheetah park - petting cheetahs, pet giraffe, feeding wild ones, cheetahs screeching, cricket, cool bar with animals skulls and skins
  • Spitzkoppe - neat granite rocks in scrubland, looked like US southwest, incredible sunset, punch party, cave, sleeping ont he mountain, windy, drunk, perishing
  • Swakopmund - don't remember drive, eating oryx and kudu, weird German town, sidewalks, streetlights, strasses, fishing barracuda, exhausting, rush when catching one, blue shark chasing a caught fish, quad biking, semi autos, up to 80kphs, rollercoasting dunes, peeking over the top, absolute beauty with sand and blue sky and ocean, great time
  • Uneventful day in Windhoek

South Africa

  • Wandering Capetown - streetsigns and points of interest, pedestrian streets, reconciliation day parade, chilling in the watefront, sushi! watching the clouds over table mountain and street performers, completely overwhelmed in pick-n-pay, bagels!
  • Wine tour - 4 wineries, sparkling, brandy, party in the bus back, blackout
  • Camps bay, 1kg sushi for R100, bus tour
  • 4:30am pickup for shark dive, chum, bait, decoy, freezing water, thinking what the hell am I doing here, 7mm wetsuits, finally seeing one, huge and looking at me, as we were leaving "shark on bait", june is best time
  • Dinner and drinking with ATC
  • 6:30 for hike up table mountain, didn't happen, took cable car, fog lifting
  • Ocean basket seafood platter
Two 007

And I'll close it out with a few funny signs / shirts that I saw:

  • On a lost and found board: "I've lost my grilled cheese sandwich, please call 032-554-0922" complete with picture
  • On a restaurants front door: "Good news, we actually serve food and drinks, so there is no need to bring your own"
  • Someone's uniform in Capetown's waterfront: "Trolley Management Services"

20 December 2008

El Fin

Today marks the last day of the trip after a pretty cool week in Namibia and Cape Town. Went sea fishing from Swakop and caught four barracudas which was actually really tough and left me sore, bruised and covered in fish blood (get the washing machine ready mom). That afternoon did quad biking on Namibia's sand dunes which is one of the better things I've ever done. You get a pretty good adrenaline rush racing up these 50 meter dunes at 75k then you look up and you are in this amazingly beautiful desert with the sea to the left, blue sky above and miles and miles of sand dunes.

Then came down to Cape Town which is a thoroughly awesome (and Westernized city). Its got a main down town, a water front and then some suburban beaches, it reminds me a lot of Sydney. There certainly are the townships with plenty of poverty and the apartheid history, but its easy to be here and forget you are in Africa at all. Wandered around, went on a wine tour that I barely remember, checked out the beaches, reveled in having ice and sushi and bagels and then went diving with great white sharks. I was in a cage and its low season, so we didn't see a ton of them doing national geographic shit, but i was still sitting in a cage in the 50 degree atlantic trying to entice 10 foot long sharks to come play. Good stuff.

Had a nice dinner with everyone from the truck last night (Springbok shanks, highly recommended), checked out table mountain today and am now trying to wrap my head around the 30 or so hours of traveling I have in front of me. When I'm home I'll put up some photos and maybe expand on the last three weeks but to eveyone out there, thanks for reading and to everyone out here, thanks for making this such a cool experience.

Tuta Onana (see you later)

12 December 2008


Its been a good ten days out here on the overland tour. Spent three of them in the Okavango Delta in Botswana where we got polled around to islands in little dugout canoes. Went on game walks and while the walking was cool, the game was lacking. From there we headed into Namibia and two days driving through Etosha National Park. Saw lots of good stuff, a couple of lions and cubs, rhinos, oryx, springboks (which "plonk"). After that we hit up a Cheetah Park where this family has hand raised a couple of cheetahs and live with them in their house (and have a pet giraffe). Pretty awesome to pet a cheetah and then watch them being fed. Last night we were in Skiptzkoppe which is a desert area with big granite rock formations that looks like the US southwest. Had an unhealthy amount of alcohol in a cave, then slept on top of one of the afermetnioned rock formations. And now I am hungover in Swakopmund which is a little slice of Germany in Africa: bakeries, VWs and traffic lights everywhere. Got a couple more days here, then off to Capetown and then coming home on the 21st.


03 December 2008

On The Road

Quick update from somewhere in Botswana. Had a great, great Thanksgiving dinner in Lusaka then hopped a much hyped time bus (because it left at a scheduled time, unlike the other busses) to Livingstone. Livingstone is kinda like Queenstown with lots of adrenaline activities, I did a great half day of rafting then walked and pet some lions. Checked out the falls which were cool, had a beautiful day but it is the dry season, so they aren't at the full force. Then joined up with tour of 23 other folks from Oz and the UK who are a pretty good group. Spent a good night in Chobe national park with its tons of elephants and are headed into the Okavanga delta tomorrow.

More soon

26 November 2008

World Bicycle Relief

Random web surfers, colleagues, friends, family, elected officials, all protocols observed, welcome to my post from Zambia. I arrived in Lusaka on Sunday morning after a few hours sorting out shipping and a fun final night out at Casablanca. After checking into the Blue Crest Gueshouse, I headed out to the town which seems to amount to some streetlights (that people actually paid attention to), some smiling Zambians, one tall buidling and a lot of rain. I quickly gave up, grabbed some beers and accomplished something amazing: gaining a basic understanding for that crazy game they call cricket.

On Monday I started volunteering with World Bicycle Relief which, as I've said before, is a really cool organization. Their basic idea is that by giving people quality bicycles, you can greatly increase the distance people can travel and the amount they can carry while reducing the amount of time these tasks take. In Zambia, they have given bikes to volunteer HIV/AIDs caregivers which has enabled the caregivers to visit more people, more often with more supplies.  The bikes also provide an added incentive to the volunteer caregivers since they can use them to help earn their livelihood. In addition to the donated bikes, WBR has trained bicycle mechanics, giving a one week course in business and technical skills, all the necessary tools and, most importantly, customers to 450+ mechanics around the country. 

The bikes are pretty simple with just one gear and kick back brakes (probably the most complicated piece are the bells) and are specially built to last out in rural Africa (4-ply tires, heavy duty stands). WBR is constantly working to improve the bike, this week they are getting in new pedals and saddles (seats) that performed better in their ongoing field tests. In a pretty cool 'world is flat' story, the information from rural Zambia came back to engineers here and in the US who then found better parts from India and the Czech Republic which then get shipped through South Africa and eventually end up back at one of seven assembly locations across Zambia. 

WBR is wrapping up their work with the HIV/AIDs caregivers (a consortium project called RAPIDS), and is looking to donate bicycles to schools in rural areas where students and teachers walk 5+ miles each day and to also get involved with offering bicycles through microfinance loans. In all of these projects, they are working with established partners which allows them to keep overhead costs to a minimum and to be part of wider, collaborative programs.

So its been a good few days learning about what WBR does, how they do it and helping out where I can. While my initial idea of being back in a metal fab shop for a week hasn't exactly panned out, I've helped out a bit with some bicycle repair and assembly and been able to help with a few technology questions they've had. I also went to the Zambian Caregiver Appreciation Day in Lusaka that featured speeches from the first president of Zambia and the new US ambassador. It was a cool ceremony, really nice to see some people making a direct impact and we got to listen to hilarious diplomatic introductions (like the one above). 

Today is Thanksgiving so we've got a dinner lined up and then tomorrow I am headed down to Victoria Falls and eventually Zimbabwe. Anyone have suggestions for avoiding cholera (wish that was a joke)?

Happy Thanksgiving!

21 November 2008

Another one bites the dust

After a quick visit to the UN, one last 8:30pm conference call, a shoeshine and then some frantic stuffing of clothes into a DHL box, my project in Nairobi is over (imagine that said like the guy on iron chef). I think the project has been really successful, we've accomplished everything we said we would (and then some), created lots of good relationships with people all over Kenya and while we don't yet have everything nailed down for a next phase, I think there is a really good chance they will actually do some of the ideas we've been talking about for the last few months. I've definitely enjoyed being here, and while Nairobi is not my favorite city in the world and there are some challenges to working in Kenya, I really like a lot of the people we've met and it certainly is a good perspective on other parts of the world.

So now I've got about a month of traveling while I make my way down to Cape Town. Sunday I go to Lusaka to work with World Bike Relief for about a week, then I head down to Victoria Falls and join up with an overland tour. The two week tour goes through the Okavanga Delta in Botswana then to Etosha and down the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. I'll spend a few free days in Namibia then head to South Africa where I've got a few days before heading home on the 20th.

Should be a pretty fantastic time, we'll have to see what the Zambians can drum up for Thanksgiving and hopefully I'll have some internet along the way. Otherwise, talk to everyone when I am back in the ole US of A.

Tutaonana! (See you later)

A little place we call Zanzibar

It somewhat amazing to write this, but last weekend was my last working in Africa. To cap off our time together, seven of us went off to Zanzibar for a final weekend of sun, dhows and full moon parties.

PICT0107 We spent Thursday night in Stone Town which used to be the epicenter for the East African slave trade, though now it is little more than some narrow alley ways, interesting old doors (mom) and Queen tributes (Freddy Mercury was born there). Friday we did a spice tour to the center of the island (the island is actually called Unguja) which was pretty interesting, its cool to see that the little jars of cinnamon you buy at Teeter actually come from the bark of a tree and to watch a dude scale a palm tree to pick coconuts. We also had the most delicious fresh pineapple I've ever tasted.

We lounged around Stone Town for a bit and then headed up north to Kendwa beach and the Sunset Beach Bungalows getting there just before sunset. The beach is a really nice long swath with super fine white sand and turquoise blue waters you can swim in regardless of the tides. It reminded me a lot of Thailand, except with African dhows instead of long tail boats. We hung out, had the fist of many good seafood meals on the beach, made s'mores (thanks department of state kids!), got a hookah from a nice rastafarian fellow and relaxed the night away.

PICT0163 The next day was absolutely gorgeous and we spent most of it relaxing in hammocks, eating seafood and playing the water. In the late afternoon we took out a dhow, did some snorkeling, did some drinking and sailed up and down the coast watching the sun set. That night we went to Kendwa Rocks for their full moon party which is a drastically calmed down version of Koh Phangnan's. It was alright, nothing phenomenal and the highlight was probably a musical set that went from Iron Lion Zion to Dragonstein Dintei to Call On Me. There wasn't the tower of speakers or fire dancers of Thailand, but there also weren't the potentially dead people lying in the gutter the next morning either.

Speaking of the next morning, it was a bit of a late start for most of us. But we quickly picked up where we left off the previous day, doing absolutely nothing on the beach. I got cornrows put in my hair (true story) then we hung out till about four and pretty sadly left Kendwa for the airport, a two hour delay (during which we played frisbee on the runway) and the flight back to Nairobi. All in all Zanzibar was wonderful and while I wouldn't rush back to the full moon party, I would definitely head back just for Kendwa.

06 November 2008

College Party

Electoral College Party that is. We truly lived the American dream this November 4th (technically the 5th here): getting up at 4am to drink Tusker and watch the election results in Kenya. Check out how excited everyone was!


IMG_0741For those of you that are curious, a breakfast injera is a take on an Ethiopian meal, except with a delicious pancake and then a bunch of toppings (fruit, jam, chocolate, ice cream, etc). And the novelty of drinking colored beer will never wear off.

Kenya seemed pretty excited about Obama winning, and while there wasn't dancing in the streets of the capital, we still got a public holiday on Thursday. Probably the most interesting part of watching the election was seeing how the different stations covered it. The BBC was a bunch of old white guys rambling on about stuff. Al-Jazeera had a hot chick and would call states forty-five minutes before any other network. And CNN was fascinated with its technology: a ridiculous interactive map and then beaming some idiot in with a hologram.


04 November 2008

Lamu and Obama! The Musical

This weekend was a trip off to Lamu, an old Swahili archipeligo on Kenya's north coast. They say it is like going back in time and that seemed like a pretty decent description, the airport was really a clearing in a forest with some thatched huts, then you immediately get on a boat to go to the actual town where there aren't any vehicles, just lots and lots of donkeys. We went on a day long dhow (traditional sail boat) trip, went fishing, got sunburned and had some great seafood, including the aptly named monster crab. It was a very nice, relaxing weekend, probably the most exciting thing that happened was the flight home. Just before we took off the captain asked the ground crew where the landing taxes were and was handed an envelop with a big wad of cash, then once we took off the panel above the seat where the oxygen masks are (or should be, if there were oxygen masks) fell off and we had to fix that with some chewing gum. Good stuff.


Back in Nairobi, we went to see Obama! The Musical last night which was very enjoyable and pretty amazing. I would say it was a combination of a middle school play, dancing with the stars, kenyan idol and a epileptic seizure. Here are some highlights:

  • The background was painted with glow-in-the-dark paint
  • The show started with Africa as the cradle of civilization and music from the Lion King
  • At one point everyone in the show broke into the Nas song "I know I can be, what I wanna be..."
  • Bush, McCain and Palin were portrayed by a guy in a big white jacket, a guy walking like a mummy and a woman in glasses, respectively
  • The McCain supporters did an awesome dance that was some sort of combination between line dancing, an Irish jig and the Russian squatting dance - basically the whitest things ever

So pretty fun stuff. Today is election day in the US, so we've stocked up on beer, red and blue food coloring and even some fireworks and will be up at 4am to celebrate the American dream. So hit me up on Skype (or give me a call).


29 October 2008

The Land of Sheesha and Shwarma

Egypt may be famous as the land of the Pharaohs, the Nile and my boy Moses, but to me the best parts of Cairo involved copious amount of water pipes and mystery meat on a stick.

Our flight got into Cairo at about 9am, which meant it left Nairobi at the thrilling hour of 5am, which meant another exciting 2:30am trip to an airport. A few things immediately struck me about Cairo: a Cinnabon in the airport, sidewalks on all the streets, elevated highways, and (for the first time in Africa) free maps that were not part of a guide book. I was pretty psyched.

PICT0055 We met up with two other ADP folks, dropped our bags and had a nice mid-morning wander down the Nile into Coptic Cairo. This is home to some old Christian churches and an (the??) old Jewish synagogue, blah blah blah, much more interesting were the donkey carts weaving in and out of traffic, the people at sidewalk cafes or stoops enjoying a morning sheeha (hookah, arguilar, hubbly bubbly, whatever) and me trying to speak Arabic. From there we went to the Citadel which is a pretty amazing Islamic complex in Old Cairo. It features a huge, beautiful mosque with towering arches, domes and miniarets and a really cool view out over the city. After getting sidetracked for a quick minute in a sandstorm, we went to Kahn-al-Khalili, grabbed a quick bite of schwarma and kosheri (rice, pasta, beans, pasta, potatoes, pasta, pretty much every carb ever invented) and headed into Cairo's market/souk. It was just getting dark and the market was kicking into high gear, with people selling everything from spices to gold to perfumes to water pipes to tourist craps to cotton. It was a pretty awesome atmosphere, we wandered the narrow alleys and haggled with the touts for an hour or so and then relaxed in Cairo's oldest cafe (El Fishawy) with some mint tea, sheesha and watched the tourists run around. Capped off the night with McDonald's soft serve (I've now had it on 6 of the 7 continents...) and a sketchy ten minutes at a sketchy bar (Cairo has a really cool night cafe scene, but being Islamic that scene does not involve booze).

Saturday was pyramids day so we got up early (I wake up much earlier on the weekends than I do on weekdays here), had some amazing 25 cent falafel and got the pyramids when they opened. They are pretty impressive, and like all big old things (Macchu, Angkor) that much more amazing to realize it was built without modern technology. The Giza pyramids are right outside of Cairo and early in the morning we got some great shots of the pyramids with the city, dunes and camels in the background. Within about an hour, they were overrun with tourists, tour busses and touts trying to get into every photo or get everyone onto their camel. We took shelter inside the great pyramid which was kinda a cool experience (they only let like 100 people in each day), but its not like there is some cool sarcophagus or mummy chilling in there. Moral of the story: get to Giza as early as possible.

PICT0119 PICT0211 PICT0157

From Giza we headed off to the Step Pyramid which is the oldest stone structure in existence and much less touristy than Giza. Wandered around the archaeological sites, debated whether the hieroglyphs were original and marveled at the way Cairo springs up out of the desert (kinda like Palm Springs). Last stop on the tour was the Red Pyramid which is out in a little oasis and was the model for the big Giza pyramids. At this point we were pretty pryamided out, started taking the most ridiculous pictures we could think of (YMCA with the A being a pyramid...) and headed back for some well deserved falafel and baklava-esque deserts. Of course the falafel turned into a sheesha and mint tea. Which turned into more sheesha and mint tea (and dominoes, cause that is what they do there). After a few hours of that, we had a good dinner at Abu el Sid (highly recommend the pigeon) in Zamelek and called it a day.

PICT0237 Sunday was our last day and it followed a fairly predictable theme: falafel, walk, sheesha, repeat. After a breakfast falafel, some people checked out the Egyptian Museum while I skipped the crowds and ventured around the Nile and some of its islands for a while. We reconvened for some more shwarma/falafel, an amazing mango juice and an afternoon smoke. We walked back to the big market/souk, thought about buying stuff but mainly settled in for a few more hours of mint tea and sheesha. We decided the best way to deal with the touts was simply to say to them "Welcome to Egypt" which got most of them to leave us alone but unfortunately devolved into me trying to guess what country all the passing tourists were from and then say it to them in their language ("Wilkommen auf Egyptstein"). I also managed to pick up an awesome visor with built in sunglasses that says, appropriately, "Welcome to Bejing" and finally, finally got a straight razor shave (apparently people in Nairobi aren't too fond of letting a stranger hold a razor blade to their face).

So Cairo was definitely my favorite city that I've been to in Africa and we had a great visit. Until it was time to fly out of their airport. First, the path to drop people off involves driving through the parking lot, making a U-turn and cutting off oncoming traffic. Once inside, the screen tells you to get in really long line 1 if you are going to Nairobi. Once we finally got the end of really long line 1, they told us that to go to Nairobi you needed to go to really long line 2 (never mind that it was just two security lines going to the exact same place). So after trying to lie to the guy and say we were going to Tel Aviv (not smart), we went to where line 2 should be. But line 2 was really more like funnel 2, with about one hundred people just trying to push and hiss their way through a three foot opening. Got through that, fought with the soldiers who were demanding paper tickets (well not literally fought), then got to funnel 3 to get our boarding passes. Finally after that it was the surprisingly orderly line 4 to get through immigration and we were off. It was like they took all of the crazy that should be in an African city and just bottled it up in their airport.

And now I'm back in Nairobi where the craziness is much more evenly distributed.

This is what we looked like after three days of non-stop sheesha

22 October 2008

The Gorerilla, or, Gore in the Mist

This post has been a little bit in coming, so I'll try to make it short and sweet. After about an hour and a half flight, we got into Kigali late on Friday night. Like a lot of small regional airports (and, apparently, African capitals), there was simply a set of stairs wheeled up to our plane, a guy vaguely gesturing across the tarmac to arrivals and a decidedly uninterested man furiously stamping passports. We bartered with a taxi (which for some reason is pretty hard in Rwanda), checked into our hotel, had an incredible French dinner, spent about thirty minutes trying to find the hottest bar in Kigali (it was a patio with like 4 people) and called it a night.

The next morning we collected our gorilla tracking permits (our $500 gorilla tracking permits), decided to ditch our prearranged $200 transport, grabbed some baguettes and fromage and hit the road out to Parc Nacional de Volcans. First stop was a gorgeous two hour bus ride out to Ruhengeri, through the rolling hills and farmland that dominate most of Rwanda. An important tip: do not be the last people to board a bus, you will inevitably end up in the terrible seats that fold down into the aisle, instead, wait 10 minutes for the next one. The taxi's in Ruhengeri once again didn't really understand bartering, so we found ourselves in a 12 seat minibus crammed with about 25 folks (though no chickens, nicely) for the twenty minute trip to Kinigi. This time it was the motorbike taxis that didn't want to negotiate, so we set off the 3km to the hotel on foot. Unfortunately the rain didn't want to negotiate with us either, so about halfway we caved, paid 75 cents and got a lift the rest of the way.

PICT0404 The Kinigi Guest House is really beautiful and set just outside the national park. There are mist covered green hills running to the horizon interrupted by about five huge volcanoes which mark the borders between Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo (pop quiz: how many lies are inherent in the name "Democratic Republic of Congo"?). Unfortunately, from the hotel you still need a 4x4 to get to the trailheads, and a taxi guy quoted us $80 for the trip. This seemed absurd and no sooner had we hung up the phone than he called back. It seemed that finally someone understood how to negotiate, but no, he just wanted to know if now we were ready to book the next day for $80. We told him we were going to find a better deal and hung up. And five minutes later, he called back, but still wouldn't budge from his $80 offer. It was ridiculous.. so seriously, if you are a tourist this is why you have to barter (or it inflates prices for everyone) and if you are a Rwandan, get with the program, eh (turns out about the only thing you could barter for in Rwanda was the foreign exchange rates which is ass backwards). In the end, we split a 4x4 with some Brits and paid $10 each.

PICT0430 Sunday morning we got up nice and early, met our car and guide, said goodbye to anything resembling clean clothes and headed into the park. The hike itself was pretty full on, most of the time nothing more than a six inch trail trampled through dense rainforest, stinging nettles and bamboo forests. When we did get a bit of a view, it honestly looked like something out of a movie where there is first a wide shot of jungle covered slopes then it zooms into these eight tiny dots that turn out to people (us!) trekking. Very very cool.

After about two hours we caught up with the trackers who, umm, track the gorillas every day. We dropped our packs, hiked up a hill and in a little clearing were the 15 gorillas of the Amhora family. Two or three were hanging out and sleeping, the adolescents were playing were eachother, mothers were grooming their babies and the silverbacks were just keeping an eye on everything. The whole experience was awesome, one of the most exciting, and authentic, encounters I have ever had with wildlife. You're only allowed one hour with, so we watched as they wandered around, thumped their chests, spun on vines, ate bamboo and made funny faces at us. They were quite spectacular, it was hard to look at them and not see similarities with humans.

PICT0492 PICT0680 PICT0629

After the gorillas we made the mistake of telling the guides that we wanted a good hike, thinking maybe we could get to the top of one of the volcanoes. Turns out, the guide took this as a personal challenge, turned off the little path there was and proceeded to march us through the jungle, pulling ourselves up hills with vines and crawling on our hands and knees under bamboo. It was all fun and games until I got ants in my pants... fire ants. Eventually we made it back, changed out of our absolutely filthy clothes and hopped the bus back to Kigali.

Monday was our last day in Rwanda and we spent the morning at their genocide memorial. As far as genocide memorials go, its pretty well done but I'm honestly pretty much done visiting those types of things. The genocide in Rwanda had a particularly nasty touch, with neighbors butchering eachother with machetes which, to me at least, is a different type of evil than just having soldiers shoot or gas people. We spent the afternoon riding around on mototaxis (they seemed more interested in haggling) and trying to find things to do in Kigali (hint: there is not a lot). Had a few beers, had a good dinner overlooking the city and then got up at 2:45am to catch our 5am flight back to Nairobi.

-The Gorerilla

Black Santa

A bit of real time blogging here. We drove downtown today for a meeting and passed a huge Christmas themed Coke billboard featuring a giant black santa. We thought that was pretty interesting and at lunch asked two of the Kenyans if they have the same story about Santa living in the North Pole, flying in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, hopping down a chimney and delivering toys. I don't think I've ever seen Africans laugh as hard as they did, literally to the point of tears. This was not helped by my next question of "What? Does he use wildebeest?"

Anyways, had a great time in Rwanda, I'll post some stories and photos soon. We voted last week, annoylingly Denver never sent me my ballot so I used had to use the write in version, but at least I got to vote for myself for Recorder of Deeds. Also talked our way into the actual US embassy compound to check out their "morale store" (which supposedly has Fat Tire) but it was closed. Next time.

17 October 2008

13 Months of Sunshine

According to my Ethiopian visa, I arrived in Addis Ababa at 11:45am on Friday 1/29/2001. Which is a little odd since, as most astute readers will recognize, it is October 2008. Turns out Ethiopia is on the Julian calendar which in addition to being 7½ years behind the rest of us, consists of 12 months of thirty days plus a 13th of five or six days. And their time starts at sunrise, so when they say 11:45am, they really mean 5:45pm. It had all the makings of a great, lost in translation weekend.

We ventured to the Sheraton Addis which was incredibly ridiculous and looked likePICT0129 it belonged in the French countryside instead of Africa's fourth largest city. But at $600 a night, we peaced out and checked into our government run hotel that looked exactly like it belonged in Africa's fourth largest city, but as an insane asylum. Got up early the next morning and went to the Mercado, supposedly the world's largest outdoor market. It started out sane enough with gridded streets lined by little shops offering yarn, construction equipment, furniture, ya know, the usual. After a few turns we were quickly immersed in narrow, twisting alleys full of people selling chickens out of shopping bags, huge chunks of salt and a blacksmith who was probably the most amused person in Ethiopia when I tried to hammer some burning metal. So we wandered around, had some fifteen cent coffee and the first of many sprees: a really tasty mix of layered fresh fruit juices (papaya, passion, guava, avocado, orange, etc).

PICT0311 We then hightailed it to the airport for our flight to Lalibela, an ex-capital of Ethiopia with these incredible five hundred year old churches. But not just old churches, old churches that were carved from a single piece rock. But not just from a single piece of rock, they were carved from the top down into the mountain, then the insides were excavated. Pretty amazing. The city itself is also really nice, bisected by a big cobblestone road and set amongst a bunch of gorges, hills and green farmland. We checked into our "tukol", a really nice round house with a balcony overlooking the churches, then ventured around the town with a steadily growing gaggle of children trailing us wherever we went.

PICT0281The next day we woke up early and started our tour of the churches. They are really incredible to see, supposedly took 25 years and 40,000 people to construct 11 of them. They are pretty well preserved (I guess that happens when you just use one big rock) and have some sweet old paintings, wooden doors in rock walls, altars, carvings and manuscripts in cool languages. Probably the coolest part was the people that were in the churches, all wearing white robes and head coverings that looked really Muslim even though they were all Christian (there were also Jewish stars of and Hindu swastikas on the temples) and praying in an ancient biblical language. The priests were also pretty decked out and most would happily dawn sunglasses so the tourists (not me of course) could take flash pictures of them inside. We hit up all the rock churches, took a bazillion photos, learned how to write Saint Gore in Ahmric (Saint Gore) and then headed back to Addis.

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We decided that the asylum/hotel that is Ras hotel wasn't quite going to cut it for us, so we stumbled into the lovely Addis View Hotel which was really really nice and gave us a really really great rate (twin room for $40 including breakfast). Went out for some Ethiopian food which consists of a tangy pancake covered with lots of different veggies and meats and Tedj, a traditional Ethiopian honey wine (as we would continuously discover, Ethiopian wines, both grape and honey, have a way to go). Barhopped a bit, checking out some traditional dancing, a cool rooftop bar and a really strange bar under a mockup of an airplane (one really nice thing about Addis was being able to walk around at night and not be very concerned about safety).

PICT0345 The next day we toured the city, catching a really cool Ethiopian wedding (lots of singing and dancing and drum banging) and visiting Lucy, our 3.2 million year old great-great-great-great-great-great-you get the picture-grandmother. While Lucy wasn't terribly impressive (she's only 3.2 feet tall), the rest of the people in Addis really were. Tons of people came up to us offering help when we were looking at maps, they stopped us on the street to say hello and shake our hand and were really happy to show us the way to a restaurant or tea house. I admit that I was initially suspicious of most of the people, but in the end I think Ethiopians are some of the most genuinely friendly people I've met. Unfortunately, on the flip side of that, the poverty in Ethiopia is much more striking than most places I've seen. People begging on their hands and knees or just lying in the middle of sidewalks (but hey, at least there are sidewalks!), a guy very resignedly picking food out of a trash pile or the woman who (best as we can tell) offered us her child because she couldn't take care of it. And honestly, thats probably a very small slice of the true rural poverty and famine that affects Ethiopia. So, like most of Africa, Ethiopia is a country of contrasts.

Anyways, we had a mediocre dinner of Arabic food (overall I was not that impressed by the food there), smoked a little sheesha, had a hilarious exchange of the waiter trying to figure out whether he should hand us the bill or put it on the table and called it a trip.

And just in time for me to finish this post, I'm off to Rwanda to go gorilla trekking.

Tuta Onana
Saint Gore

15 October 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

On October 15th, thousands of blogs around the world will focus on the global issue of poverty. This is a particularly interesting topic to discuss while I'm on a project in Nairobi, Kenya. From the children begging for money outside the Westlands supermarket to the tens of thousands of people living in the Kangemi slum where we eat lunch to the man solemnly picking through a heap of trash by the side of the road in Ethiopia, poverty is something we see almost every day. Sometimes it is easy enough to look away, other times the realities can be gutwrenching.

I don't think there is any sort of big, universal answer to poverty. Which is good in a way since big, universal things are really hard to do, especially at an individual level. Luckily, there are lots of organizations, doing both big and small things, that we can get involved with to make a difference:

  • Kiva - A neat organization that allows you to make microloans directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Given the state of the economy, not the worst investment in the world.
  • World Bicycle Relief - Bikes are one of those disruptive things that can provide a tremendous benefit by increasing the distance people can travel and how much they can carry by over 500%. WBR builds bikes locally, distributes them and creates maintenance jobs.
  • Heifer International - In the same thread as Kiva, except instead of giving loans you give animals (chickens, goats, water buffaloes, bees, etc). The recipients get eggs, milk, plows, honey, etc (not meat) and then gives  two of the offspring to other people in need.
  • Habitat for Humanity - There's not a much more concrete way to battle poverty than helping to build a house for someone. Plus, its a lot of fun and you get to build shit.

So go make a loan, give a bike, donate a cow or build house!

Have other cool organizations or ways to get involved? Leave em in the comments.

07 October 2008


The Fokker is the second coolest name of an airplane that I've ever flown in (that honor belongs to the Twin Otter). It is also the plane that took us to Mombasa , one of the oldest cities in Kenya, a huge port town with a strong muslim influence and a former stop on the East African slave trading route.

PICT0003 We headed south to Tiwi beach and after a quick bribe stop by the police (apparently the tint was too dark on our taxi), a thirty minute ferry ride across a 100 foot wide river and then a bumpy ten or fifteen miles, we arrived at the Sand Island Cottages. It was, in a word, magnificent. We had a five bed cottage with a huge patio that looked right onto the palm trees lining a completely deserted beach.  The tide was out, crashing against the reef, and creating a shallow sand island in the middle of the bay. We wandered, we swam, we frolicked, we ignored Kenyans trying to sell us fresh octopus and "medicine".

Eventually we headed back into town, getting there just in time to see them close the gates at Fort Jesus (a big ole Portuguese bastion). No worries, we hung out with the kids playing soccer in the courtyard then ventured into the old town. I really liked the old town at night, there were tons of people walking around, lots of restaurants and street food, and a really lively atmosphere. We had dinner at Tamarind which is one of the more renowned restaurants in Kenya, it was good but nothing spectacular (though the tree tomato sorbet was scrumptious). Had a few rounds of Pontoon in the casino and called it an early night.

PICT0056 Saturday morning we caught sunrise over the beach and started our day long dhow boat trip with Charlie's Claws. We had breakfast in an old cave that used to hold slaves before they were sent to Zanzibar which was a bit creepy and kinda the exact opposite of the champagne breakfast we had in the Mara. But shortly after that we jumped on a really nice wooden boat, sprawled out on some deck pillows and were cruising towards the little islands that dot Kenya's east coast. The scene reminded me of Australia's Whitsundays, white sandy beaches, palm fringed islands, blue water, sea breezes and a few dolphins thrown in just for kicks. Did a quick dive (pretty mediocre: 10m vis, lots of dead coral, no whale sharks) and some snorkeling then we headed to Wasini island for lunch.

The lunch starter was one of the more incredible meals I've ever had. They gave us these miniature wooden baseball bats, dropped a huge platter of jumbo crabs on the table and let us go at it. There is nothing (nothing!) more fun than bashing something with a club, eating it with your hands and having it be super fresh and delicious. And when we had just about finished the first platter, they asked the most magical four words, "do you want more?" and dumped an even larger platter on the table. And that was just the starter, we also got some weird coconut bitings (bitings are like tapas here), a whole fish in coconut sauce and some fruit to finish us off. Tre bien. Had a quick boat ride back to the bus, a not so quick bus ride back to the cottage and finished off the night on our porch playing drinking games with Salvador's Pepino Surprise: vodka, sprite and cucumbers.

Sunday picked up right where Saturday stopped: drinking and eating. These guys walk around the beach selling fresh seafood, so we snagged some lobsters, prawns and generic fish. But with some very very important activities to attend to, we decided to splurge the $6 and hire a chef to prepare us lunch. So while we explored the reef and sat in hammocks, our chef shredded coconuts, made a curry, bbq'd the lobsters, uncorked the wine and served us a feast on our porch. A pretty fantastic way to cap off a pretty fantastic trip to the coast.


P.S. For the old people out there, we managed to avoid both the headless gunners and gin. Thankfully.

06 October 2008

Its Called Pontoon

So its been a fun few weeks here in East Africa, unfortunately I'm feeling equal parts tired and sunburned from a weekend in Mombasa so this is gonna be a quick one.

  • A Kenyan Wedding: Two weeks ago one of the drivers from the organization that is hosting us invited us to his wedding. Despite everyone not being 100% clear on names, we hopped in a cab, got lost in the outskirts of Nairobi, showed up half an hour late which was about two hours before the actual wedding started. The ceremony itself was a nice, fairly standard Christian affair (except replace old white church with large un-air conditioned iron roofed building) with a lot of gospel singing and dancing thrown in. Most of the service was in swahili and english, though they did most of the prayers just in swahili which was a-ok for me.

  • PICT0031Mount Longonot: The day after the wedding we headed up the Rift Valley to climb Mt Longonot which is an old (technically "senile") volcano. The hike up took about an hour and as soon as you reach the summit you see into this huge collapsed crater that looks totally different from the surrounding valley. Very cool, very jurassic park like (or maybe more the land before time). Had a really nice dinner at Drifters, a floating restaurant out on lake naivaisha. Most importantly, we did not run out of gas.

  • Brewery, Safari, Toga: Last Friday we decided to check out East Africa's only brewpub, Sierra, located just south of downtown. The place takes itself a little too seriously, but the food was good and the beer was a great change of pace from Tusker. After trying to name all the African countries (I was not even close) and the US states (damn you Indiana), we asked a cab company to send us a van and of course they sent a pop up safari van. So we raced through the streets of Nairobi with the top up, listening to gangster rap and drinking beer. Once back in Westlands we grabbed bed sheets and some vines and headed to a UN toga party. What's a UN toga party like? Well there are people wearing togas who are actually from Rome and you end up arguing with Somalis about why they really should not have pirates any more.

  • The Day After: I felt pretty much like shit. So after a fantastic breakfast burrito at Java, went over to an apartment complex with a pool and hung out, got massages, hung out, had a sauna (yeah in Africa, weird right?) and pretty much hung out.

  • Its Called Pontoon: Sunday I was feeling much better and we decided to tackle the links at Puttomania in Village Market. Had a great time, though the course was ridiculously hard including one absolutely absurd hole. Had a nice dinner at an Ethiopian place here in Westlands then ventured over to the Las Vegas Casino (only replace impressive lights with christmas tree lights). The casino was reasonable, had probably 10 tables and we ended up at the closest thing to Blackjack, called Pontoon. And everytime we asked a question, the response was simply: "Its called pontoon". Why are you taking my money? Its called pontoon. What is surrendering? Its called pontoon. Why is it called pontoon? Its called pontoon. So now, instead of the classic "this is africa", we're going with "its called pontoon".

So that ended up not being so short and I'll put some good stuff on Mombasa soon. In the mean time, we found out that post system is pretty good here (took about 2 weeks), so if you want a postcard, send me your address.

29 September 2008

Why is this matatu going backwards?

In one of those days where everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, here are some of the challenges of working in Africa.

Before starting work, we walked over to the nearby mall to run errands and get some cash out. Unfortunately, Rob's bank seems to think he is a "fraudster" and for the third time in as many weeks declined his transaction. So while Rob starts about a twenty minute chat with his bank, we walk down to the main road to grab a matatu (basically public minivans that run regular routes - ours is the 23) into work. We tell the guy where we are going, he nods, we agree on a price (about 14 cents), hop on board and everything seems fine.

The guy drives off a bit slowly, but honestly with the way these guys generally drive, slowly is not something to complain about. And then we stop, which is fairly normal, matatus stop (or at least come to a slow roll) to pick up people all the time. And then we start driving backwards. Which is decidedly not normal. Even with the way these guys generally drive. We reverse for a good minute or so, end up behind where we started and load up with a few more people. Then the matatu starts off again, going in the right direction for almost a full three minutes before it randomly turns left, stops and tells us to get out. Wonderful. So now, five minutes later, we are back on the main road, about a 100 yards closer to work and trying to catch another matatu.

We make it into work and have a reasonably productive day, our meeting starts late (as tends to happen) and runs an hour or three long (as tends to happen) so lunch is something slightly less than delicious from the gas station across the street. We head back to the apartment to start our evening conference calls (morning in the US) using TurboCall which at 8 cents a minute is downright cheap.

GROUP IMG_1365 Unfortunately, today the quality is downright cheap and keeps breaking up, usually right when someone is answering one of my questions or saying something that (I assume) is really important. So Rob heads back to the nearby mall to make his call from the internet cafe which seems like a good idea until Skype refuses to connect. I get a text, start up his call, and have been talking for about five minutes when Rob bursts into the room, huffing and puffing from a sprint back from the mall. Then for our third and final call, we decide to go with the plain old cell phone which works really well except that at 35 cents a minute, right when Rob says "and now I'm going to give it over to Steve", we hear three beeps telling us we've run out of money and the line goes dead.

But hey, a bad day in Africa is still better than a good day in the office.

20 September 2008

The Rhmyenoceros, or, Disaster Averted

After taking on both the Masai Mara and downtown Nairobi in pop-top safari vans, we decided throw caution to the wind and go after Lake Nukuru on our own little self-drive safari. The allure of wandering wherever our hearts desired in our own decked out land rover was too much to pass up. The reality of waking up inconsolably hungover and squeezing five people into a Toyota Carrola to fight Nairobi's traffic was less alluring.

But no worries, we hit the road and within no time were in Nukuru town. After stopping for some petrol (we call this foreshadowing) and kuku (chicken) we arrived at the lake, paid our entrance fee and spent just enough time walking around for a monkey to run up, steal the drink box out of Salvador's hand and taunt him with it from a tree. Then we were completely free to explore the park on our own, drive wherever, stay as long and take as many pictures as we wanted (which turned out be about 400). The freedom was great, as was the general lack of other tourists (at least compared to the Mara).

PICT0068 The lake is home to thousands and thousands of pink flamingos, storks and probably a thousand other birds, plus its shores teem with gazelles, water buffaloes, zebras, elands (some weird cow thing) and rhinos. We drove right down to the shore, got as close to the rhinos as we dared (with most of us hiked halfway out the windows) then headed up to a lookout to enjoy our gourmet bush lunch of chicken and soggy chips. We met two Swiss guys who had the biggest fucking cameras I have ever seen, they were honestly three feet long and apparently had 1000x magnification. Serious zoom lens envy. We cruised back down from the picnic site (only bottoming out like 7 times), swung by the south of the park to check out some giraffes and then headed to our guest house.

PICT0079 And what greeted us at the guest house? A troop of elephants or maybe some leopards? No such luck, but we did stumble upon a solid menagerie of about 50 middle school kids running around blasting electronic dance music (Mr Green?). After about 5 minutes trying to find someone in charge, at one point actually telling people that I need an adult, we finally found the carekeeper who had (pretty wisely) locked himself in a little hut. He explained that we were at the Wildlife Club of Kenya Youth Hostel and that the Wildlife Club of Kenya Guest House was just up the road. Disaster averted.

Unfortunately the guest house didn't serve food, so we drove to Sarova Lion Hill Lodge which offers rooms from $250 a night. We watched an 'authentic African culture show', made fun of all the white people (because we are so wise and experienced) and had a thoroughly mediocre dinner. As we were driving back (through the park, at night) and just after someone said we should be looking for eyes to cheetahs, we started hearing a nice rhythmic thumping sound which we correctly recognized as a flat tire. So we limped back to the hotel, tore the car apart looking for the spare and the jack and the iron and lug nut key and got the tire changed (and some brownies too). Disaster averted.

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The next morning we got up at the crack of dawn and watched the sun rise over the flamingos on the lake. We spent a good thirty minutes watching two adults and two baby rhinos slowly grazing, then spotted a tower of about fifteen giraffes (also slowly grazing). After a quick stop at little waterfall, we (really I) decided the main 'road' wasn't doing it, so we took off down a little double wide dirt trail. We headed into a big grassy area, saw a bushel of about 50 baboons running (galloping? loping? what do baboons do?) across the road, then promptly got stuck in the mud. Got out, dodged a lion or two, pushed the car to dry ground and we were off. Disaster averted.

From Nukuru we headed to Lake Naivasha where we enjoyed another fantastically mediocre meal in which they managed to mess up every single order (it was actually amazing, you would have to actually try to do a worse job). And then we realized we were twenty miles from the nearest town and had approximately zero gas. Rather than do something sensible like go back to town, we continued on and luckily the first guy we asked about a gas station told us he had some spare petrol, ran inside and hooked us up with a few liters. Disaster averted (or was it...).

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Got into Crater Lake which is a really nice little lake (in a crater) with no predators. So while you can't spot a lion or leopard, you can get out and walk around with wild zebras and giraffes which is about the coolest thing in the entire world. Generally the animals just slowly walk away from you, though some zebras got spooked by a car and started stampeding which was equal parts awesome and terrifying. We also saw some giraffe courting which was equal parts romantic and awkward.

PICT0382 And then we got lost. Like random dirt paths in a national park lost. Like "hey does that tree look familiar to anyone" lost. Like our gas light is back on lost. So found some random Kenyan biking through the national park with a bunch of firewood (true story) and he pointed us to the main gate. We got to the nearest village and they pointed us to the next market where there was a gas pump. But of course gas is a little imprecise and there was in fact only a diesel pump. But after about ten minutes we found that there was also a generator and we convinced whomever owned it to give us a liter of whatever fuel she used in it. We made it back to Naivasha town, the 2nd gas station we tried had petrol(no comment) and we made it home, safe and sound, to Nairobi. All together now... disaster averted.



P.S. Aaaargh, its international talk like a pirate day!

13 September 2008

¡Viva Mexico!

Contrary to popular culture, American tv and thousands of Mexicans cruising up and down Federal, Cinco de Mayo is not actually Mexico's national day. That honor belongs to September 16th and last Friday night found us celebrating at the Mexican Embassy (technically the third country I've been in in Africa, if you count an illegal little jaunt into Tanzania up in the Mara).

IMG_7138The party was pretty espactular, they probably got two hundred people out ranging from ambassadors to nuns to military attache's to my personal favorite, Kenyans in Sombreros handing out Coronas. After some hors' devours, the Mexican ambassador gave a flag waving (literally) speech interrupted by copious "Viva"s  then opened a fantastic buffet featuring probably the best chicken mole I've ever had (no fajitas, burritos or sour cream as apparently those are American inventions). Of course, the real highlight was the open bar with Coronas, Margaritas and Caballitos  (shots) de Tequila. Lots of Caballitos. Somewhere in the next four hours, after hobnobing with diplomats, hablaing en espanol, the ambassador falling asleep and us running around in sombreros, we realized pretty much everyone else had left (probably a good thing given the Caballitos), hopped in a cab, butchered a version of Closing Time and called it a night.

Next stop Saudia Arabia Day on the 23rd (I believe their national drink is intolerance. Was that intolerant of me to say?)

10 September 2008

A Business Safari

Business Safari We've had a pretty nuts week so far, an East Africa chapter meeting with ~15 clients, some fun 11pm meetings, two visits to Carnivore (more below) and today's adventure: a twelve hour business safari. Since there are five of us out here right now and the cabs, which are not that cheap, will only take 4 folks, we had our trusty Masai Mara guide break out the pop top safari van and take us around all day. And since we were meeting with people today, everybody was wearing suits (everyone except me since the closest thing I have is an apron from Carnivore) while we cruised through downtown Nairobi hunting for our big business 5: prime minister, permanent secretary, indian witchdoctor, futbol player and illegal dvd peddler (we went 3/5).

Started by fighting the absolutely horrendous Nairobi traffic to get downtown for a launch meeting of a study on Kenya as a BPO center. Honestly the most interesting part of the meeting was watching the formality and protocol of introductions: the facilitator introduced the CEO who introduced the Chairman who introduced the Permanent Secretary (tick: 1/5) who proceeded to acknowledge everyone who had introduced him and all the 'distinguished ladies and gentlemen'. After the introductions there was a break for tea and we hit the road for the next spot.

Continued fighting the absolutely horrendous Nairobi traffic through an industrial part of the city. It was actually fairly interesting (my favorite was a sign for a welding company with a welder wearing sunglasses while the three people watching held proper welding masks) and with the crawling pace, the slum out the window and Jessica's camera it was really tempting to open the roof and start taking pictures. Showing a shocking amount of moral restraint, we did not and got to our meeting after a good hour long game drive (my guess is it was 7 miles away).

The meeting was good and we headed off to lunch. To avoid fighting the absolutely horrendous Nairobi traffic we took a detour on a dirt road that went right next to Nairobi National Park, so we literally had a safari. Then at the restaurant I was greeted by this Indian guy in a turban (not that theres anything wrong with that) who didn't introduce himself, took us to our table, sat down and ordered two bottles of wine. Turns out he was the chairman of this company but for about half the lunch I thought he was just a crazy Indian witchdoctor (tick: 2/5). Also turns out he owns some really nice hotels in Kenya, is involved in some pretty interesting charities/work, and was popping off at 4 for his weekly sauna, massage and bottle of whiskey. Not such a bad guy.

Headed back down to the industrial area (they have tax-free zones there, so the outsourcing companies we were speaking with are located there) and, you guessed it, fought the absolutely horrendous Nairobi traffic. Had another good, though really long, meeting and finally headed back home over 12 hours after we left. Surprisingly, traffic was not that bad.

(tick: 3/5)

08 September 2008

A Photo Cross Section

Had a nice, relaxing weekend down here in the Robi. Went to a nice bar called Mercury that could probably even pass for a trendy lounge, went to the National Museum which had some decent exhibits on human pre-history and some excellent photos of Kenya and went to Carnivore which is a Brazillian steak house in Kenya that used to have all sorts of wild game meat but thats been pretty well curtailed and all we got was some crocodile, ostrich and a sweet ass apron.

Anyways, here's a few quick photos that I think show some of the interesting contrasts of Nairobi.

A local market area in WestlandsThe Artcaffe in Westlands

03 September 2008

The Masai Mara, or, In and Out of Africa

Abridged version: Had an incredible weekend out at the Masai Mara which is Kenya's extension of the Serengeti. Wildebeest, lions, lions eating wildebeest, baboons, zebras, giraffes, hippos, elephants, hot air balloons, champagne, ostriches, monkeys, water buffalo, hyenas and the cradle of humanity. Full set of pictures here and here.

Long version (but with pictures!): Last Thursday, the two remaining members of the team arrived here in Nairobi. Unfortunately Jessica's luggage didn't make the whole trip so we spent Friday morning picking up the necessities: pants (trousers for you cheeky brits), t-shirts, random Kenyan snacks (Chevda and Bhusu - pretty tasty, kinda like African chex mix), Tusker Beer, Two Keys Whiskey and Yatta Kenyan Wine (in a box - Kenya is not exactly Argentina in the vinology department). We headed out in early afternoon, driving through some pretty luxurious burbs before entering the Rift Valley (which from above looks a lot like South Park, CO) and into pretty full on Africa. Our driver, George, seemed to prefer the dirt shoulder to the paved, though painfully potholed, road as we cruised past villages that weren't much more than a few wood and corrugated iron shacks, busses packed to the brim with people and supplies (blue chips anyone?) and more than a handful of Masai people wearing bright red tending to their cattle.

We got to the Flamingo camp just before sundown, unfortunately the tree house was already occupied so we got these permanent "tents" complete with showers, mosquito nets and enough room to easily stand up. Had a pretty good dinner and were enjoying our boxed wine when we met Ndolo. Ndolo is one of those people you can instantly tell you don't really want to talk, but since we were the only people in the dining tent (and he had more wine) you end up spending three hours with. Three hours filled with wild tales of meeting Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (after hitting on Chelsea in a bar), plans to run oil for the Libyan government and finally that all Kenya needs is all westerners to "get the fuck out and stop raping us" (cause it worked well in Somalia), and I was ready for bed. Luckily we had Masai guards to keep out the lions, cheetahs and annoyingly drunk Kenyans.

The next morning we packed up our tricked out minibus with a pop up roof and headed into the park. Its hard to describe, the Mara is 585 square miles of rolling grassland dotted with awesome African trees, the occasional watering hole and a shitload of incredible animals. We started out the day with some water buffaloes and giraffes from a distance, but this was really just a warm up to spotting a lion eating its kill. 

Pretty amazing, the lion was about fifteen feet from the road and could not have cared less about the people (or minibuses) slowly inching closer. From there we checked out the first (of many) massive herds of wildebeest and zebras roaming (and randomly running single file) through the park. From July to October is the great migration when about one million come up from the Serengeti, I reckon we saw most of them.

We continued driving through the park seeing a bushel of baboons, a parade of elephant and a crash of hippopotami, all before lunch. Stopped next to the Mara river for lunch which we enjoyed with a kodak of tourists and a troupe of monkeys (who kept trying to steal Rob's lunch box). Took a quick walk down the river and ended up in a little clearing full of animal carcasses, not the best smell after eating. After lunch we kept cruising around, spotting more herds of wildebeests, zeals of zebras and an ostentation of ostriches. I think the most impressive for me were the towers of giraffes casually munching trees and elegantly walking through the Mara.* Thats right, I said elegantly. We also had a nice bonding conversation about our porn star names, look for Aaron Bellaire in the upcoming In and Out of Africa flick. Just kidding.

After about nine hours tromping through the park, we headed off to one of the "pubs" (rooms with beer in the corner) in the Masai village. Shared some beers with the Masai chief who explained lion hunting, stealing cattle and then offered us 50 goats for Jessica (against my better judgement we declined). Then back to the camp, set up my hammock, ate passionfruit fresh of the vine, had dinner, played cards and avoided Ndolo. 

Sunday morning we got up early, like pitch black early, for our hot air balloon ride. It was incredibly incredible, we took off as the sun was rising and once we were air born it was like we were floating (because, ya know, we were floating). It was also amazingly quite and smooth, a welcome change from the bumpy roads and diesel mini-bus of the previous day. We saw the huge vastness of the Mara, mile long lines of wildebeests stretching to the horizon, impalas sprinting off as we passed over, spotted hyenas wandering the grass and more giraffes amongst the trees. It was really an amazing perspective on the park. And the 5-star, champagne breakfast complete with made-to-order omelettes and pancakes wasn't a bad touch either.

Following the balloon ride we dropped people off at the Kerokok lodge, a proper safari lodge (like it has a pool and internet) in the park, saw our last two lions hanging out in the road and headed back home. We slept most of the way (as much as you can sleep on the roads here), got back to Nairobi in the afternoon, picked up an illegal DVD with like 15 disney movies and capped off the weekend by ordering pizzas and watching The Lion King.

Hakuna Matata,

* Seriously, these are the collective names of the animals [1]. Ok ok, an ostentation is really for peacocks. And the credit for a Kodak of Tourists goes to Rob.