Friday, October 19, 2007

Monday, 10 September 2007 (Nairobi)

Today was a big day. It was our first full day in Africa, and all the excitement was really set to begin now. I expected to have trouble sleeping for a few days, but looking back on it now, I never had any problems at all. Well, save of course for those few moments when I could have slept in, but for what I like to call "Natures Cacaphony." (Actually, that's not fair, there was nothing discordant about any of it - it was harmonious beyond imagination. But more on that later.)

We started this morning with a meeting to discover what we would be doing these next two weeks. We weren't really hungry, still being on a different eating schedule. So after a quick bite of banana and muffin, we headed on down to the conference room reserved for the Micato group. There, we met some of our Micato staff who would guide us during our stay. We had already met our Kenya-side director, Alfred, last night. Kisea (I hope the spelling is right) would be our concierge in and around Nairobi, and assisting her was Regina. Both ladies were just lovely. They handed us our awesome hats, shukas (Maasai red wrap) and hard-carved wooden necklaces (Betsy and I wore this everyday). Alfred walked us through the trip summary, giving us the highlights to come, and some tips for safe travel (don't stress, take your pills, wear long pants and sun protectant, use your Micato hat).

Rakita the elder talked for about 10 minutes, telling us a little bit about his way life as a Maasai. The thing I remember most about his comments, and the thing I try to remember every single day, is the following: "Put your problems out of your way. Stress, I will not allow you to enter my life." (Boy, have I used that the past month since I got back.)

The staff offered to change cash for those who needed to do so, which was a nice touch. And the rate was better than I got at the airport. Oh well. After that, we headed outside to the big van, where Felix and Jane Pinto stopped by to say hello. We also spoke briefly with Rakita, who told us about his only trip to the States. He had gone to New York with Jane to appear on The View. Naturally he was wearing his traditional clothing, so he was spotted constantly afterwards all over the streets! He had several offers to buy him a beer. They then went to Chicago, where he discovered the joys of deep dish pizza. It was neat to hear about his travel to our country.

We boarded the bus to drive briefly around Nairobi, stopping at the pre-selected store, where we could browse and think about what we might like to buy when we return in about two weeks. We drove past several landmarks, including government buildings, churches, parks and the location of the former American embassy. Every year on August 8th a memorial service is held.

We had to cut short our city tour and head over to Lingata Giraffe Center. This was fantastic! Feeding giraffes is an awesome experience. You can't help but smile when you do this. They tend to be pretty gentle, although Daisy will do a nice little head-butt when she's not getting enough.

Then we went to the Karen Blixen Museum (in Kenya, not Denmark - that would be a long drive). This is her former estate/coffee plantation/home of the greatest chick story every told. OK, having never read Out of Africa, I didn't have the typical experience that most everyone else seems to have. (I probably haven't seen the movie because of my attitude toward Meryl Streep - I'm with Jerry Seinfeld on this one.) Still, you could tell this was neat for those who knew what to look for. Frankly, the highlight for me was seeing a real African flame tree. More properly called the African tulip tree, the bright orange flowers up top naturally lend its nickname. I thought this flame tree was just something made up - I was wrong.

For lunch we headed to the Kiambethu Farm, where Marcus welcomed us to his home, for a brief lesson on the tea trade, coffee and drinks, and the first of a zillion fantastic meals. The Colobus monkeys that live on the estate are a sight to see, especially when one of the 10 dogs starts barking at them.

We eventually headed back to the city for a brief rest. That evening we ate dinner at the Pinto's estate. Although Felix was out, Jane met us at the top of the stairs to welcome us to her home. We started with an awesome passion fruit punch, wine, and veggie dip (yummy yogurt-based). Dinner was curry chicken, sweet potatoes, corn off the cob in coconut sauce, and many other treats. We were treated to Alfred leading a chorus of Jambo Bwana, while presenting the birthday cake to B. (That reminds me, I need to introduce everyone, so my shorthand makes sense. See below for our cast of charcters.) Jane and the staff of Micato presented the first of what would be a nightly gift. (In Africa, it is tradition for the host to present a gift to the guest when invited into the home.) The men received a hand-carved soapstone dish, and the ladies were presented Malachite bracelets. We were instructed that we would be leaving at 6:30 tomorrow morning, so we headed back to the Norfolk for the night, with instructions to have our bags outside our door at 6:15 for the porters to deliver to the bus. Betsy and I went to bed that night, with heads spinning and so anxious to get to Amboseli!

For a few shots to enjoy, click here.

And now, introducing our cast of characters:
R&B - A couple from outside Jacksonville, Florida. FSU fans. In our safari vehicle. (They have tried several tour companies, and love Micato.)
B&MJ - A couple from outside Tampa, Florida. Travelling with MJ's sister-in-law E. (MJ can make things happen.)
E - Single traveller from New York. In our safari vehicle. (Having her in the van was a true gift - her enthusiasm is infectious.)
Jn&Je - A couple from Bakersfield, California. VERY experienced travellers. (Je takes excellent candids.)
B&M - Two friends from opposite coasts. (B is a second-time Micato guest, and M tells fabulous New York stories.)

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