30 June 2009

Fishing, Frost and Fat Tire

In a slightly odd turn of events, last weekend we decided to forgo the lions or nice warm beaches for two nights camping in the Aberdare mountains, in the middle of the Kenyan winter. Now I know, Kenyan winter should be an oxymoron, as it is an African country located on the equator. But Nairobi this time of year can be pretty chilly which is really nothing compared temperatures in the Aberdares at 10,000 feet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The trip started with a visit to the US embassy housing compound in Nairobi, a place called Rosslyn Ridge. After getting lost with the first taxi, a quick matatu ride, a second taxi, a bomb residue scanner, the obligatory mirror to look under the car and a set of massive gates between the perimeter and outer walls, I found myself in a perfect replica of an American suburb. Tennis courts, manicured lawns and even street signs with the familiar white on green lettering. There I met Craig and Doug, two US embassy employees (technically diplomats) who were also coming on the trip. Craig works for the counselor division in Nairobi and Doug does physical security for embassies all over Africa. They were both really cool and had some amazing stories to tell.

IMG_0498 We drove the few hours up to the Aberdares, spent another few hours waiting for the park rangers to try to figure out their smart card system to charge us (supposedly to cut down on corruption, because the park rangers are at the heart of the government's problems) and eventually made it to Fisherman's Lodge. The scenery was gorgeous, driving up out of the Rift valley into a pretty lush high country with lots of rolling hills. As the temperatures went down and we huddled around a fireplace and kerosene lanterns, the place felt more like a rustic ski lodge than anything I'd expect to find in Kenya.

The next morning we woke at 5:45am (probably the earliest I've woken up since the sunrise balloon ride in Masai Mara) to try our hand at a little fishing. But first we had to get to the river, which involved putting on every single piece of clothing I had brought with me, chipping the frost off the windshield of the car and cranking up the defroster. Eventually the sun came up (cannot believe I just wrote that) which made everything better and while I caught zero fish and lost two lures, I did get to practice my fly casting and didn't lose an eye to a wayward hook, so all in all I think it was a success. Spent the rest of the day doing a game drive, hacking our way through bushes, spotting elephants and collecting firewood for the second night.

IMG_0504 The second night was spent in the Sapper Banda, Banda being the Swahili word for "crappy shack". It had two beds and a fireplace, and no sooner did we have the fireplace lit then the entire place was engulfed with smoke. Obviously something was wrong with the chimney (a rusted out metal pipe) so we decided to jam a broom handle down it to clear out anything that was blocking it. This proved ineffective, so the next idea was to drop a rock down the chimney. Do not, let me repeat, Do not drop a rock down a chimney to try to clear it out. It will get stuck, and you will spend the next thirty minutes fastening together some sort of contraption to jam down to try to clear out rock, literally and figuratively becoming a chimney sweeper. We eventually got the fire sorted, cooked a delicious meal of corn, fish (store bought) and mac'n'cheese and hung out with these duikers (deer like things) that were super tame and would come within about two feet of us.

Survived another cold (and carbon-monoxide-ey) night, failed at fishing again and cruised on back to Nairobi. On the car ride back we were discussing the perks of working for the embassy: free housing, all sorts of tax free stuff and Fat Tire beer. Thats right, Fat Tire beer, which cannot be purchased on the east coast of these United States, is sent out by the State Department to embassies all over the world and is available for purchase (tax-free) at the comissary in the US embassy. WTF mate?

Just like Crested Butte except with Acacias instead of Aspens

28 June 2009

Karibu Tena

I got into Kenya about five days and so far things are going swimmingly. A year ago I titled my first post "Nairobi... woah" and strangely now I couldn't feel more differently. Not a lot has changed in Nairobi, the main road is better paved, there's a new casino in Westgate and a new sushi restaurant (?!?!) but otherwise I'm staying in the same complex, my DVD guy recognized me and the traffic (otherwise still known as "the jam") is as maddening as ever. The lack of infrastructure, people of all walks of live walking everywhere and the incredible contrasts are still here, just a little less surprising the second time around.

Anyways, things are good. Had easy flights out here and a great layover in London with Salvador, who regular readers will remember from last year as the intern that got us invited to the Mexican embassy bash. The new team out here seems good and we are working out of the NGO offices that is a three minute walk from the apartments. Been back to some of the favorite spots for dinner (2-1 pizza, diamond plaza), just got back from a fun weekend in the Aberdares and am off later tonight to watch the US beat Brazil in the Confederation Cup Final. 


IMG_0448 Edit 
Brits apparently love sushi trains, this one is in Paddington Station, London


A faluda (fruit juice, tapioca, ice cream, wafers and sprinkles) at Diamond Plaza


The fiber optic construction on School Lane outside our apartments in Nairobi

21 June 2009

Oscar Miked

My flight to merry ole England leaves in about 8 hours and its been pretty interesting to see how differently I prepared for this trip than my first backpacking trip to Asia. Four years ago my last week consisted of a daily trip to REI, a cover to cover reading of a Lonely Planet, currency arbitrage at the forex and some pretty frantic packing, unpacking, organizing and repacking. This time I've taken a markedly different approach, partly because I already have a lot of stuff but more because I've realized that they do in fact sell shoelaces in other countries (in fact they are made there!). So instead I've focused on something far more important: food. In the last three days I've hit a sushi place, mexican restaurant, smoked a turkey and of course grabbed a burger at the Cricket. I've also picked up what I now consider to be an essential (over say a mosquito net): a 4 pound jar of chunky peanut butter. So armed with that, my passport, Visa card and trusty hammock (same one from Asia), I'll talk to everyone from Nairobi.


16 June 2009

Part VII

In which Steve repacks his bags for a two month foray to India (by way of Nairobi and Dubai) and considers if he should buy new slacks.