Wednesday, 5 July - Cratering
There's an elephant, no, make that 3 "funts," right below the balcony. You can tell because the tree tops move and huge shapes appear and disappear below. We have to hurry because there's another long drive today to the Ngorongoro Crater following a morning game drive through Tarangire. I love Tarangire, the baobabs ("monster trees" David calls them and they do seem like the stuff of nightmares) punctuate the rolling landscape and we've never seen this many elephants. And the birds – bright little specks zip from bush to bush. I see my first truly wild parrot, a pretty little yellow collared lovebird squawking a typical parrot squawk.
Coming across a troop of baboons engaged in a raucous squabble David explains mornings are discipline times when misdeeds of the previous day are accounted for. P gets some great shots of this – and some perfect landscapes. Also, my requested shot of a male impala and some wonderful zebra pictures.
Reluctantly we leave this Reserve and head northwest. It's a long drive, and about 40 km is over an abysmally bumping road and the Land Cruiser does not improve with each passing km. The upcountry changes in appearance, getting greener with more cultivations. This part of Tanzania seems quite prosperous, the little towns we pass and stop at for "driver breaks" aren't miserably poor and we're not waist deep in begging, tribal "entrepreneurs."
Finally around 2 PM we reach the Crater area, a World Heritage Site and very protected by the Tanzanian government. Gaining altitude we're in a high mountain forest with cold cloudy mist all around. The first view of the Crater is spectacular – it's vast and deep and incredible. This area is fascinating from so many standpoints – ancient geology, differing ecosystems and, of course, the human evolutionary fossil record. We can hardly wait for tomorrow's descent into it.
But first, business. Hotel inspections. First the Serena, which clearly wasn't expecting us and ended up giving what we felt was a grudging tour. The hotel is far nicer than the reception we got: beautiful public areas mimicking cave paintings with volcanic rock structures, gorgeously done. Smallish, rather ordinary guest rooms. Typical Serena.
The Wildlife Lodge was next, an older property, one of the TAHI chain of partially Tanzanian government-owned hotels, not much to describe except their panoramic window view of the Crater. Then to the opposite side, gaining about 800 feet to an altitude of 8,000 feet to arrive at the Sopa. It's wonderful – just as nice as the Tarangire but individual in decor while keeping Sopa's trademark giant round public spaces. Our room has the Sopa sitting area, enormous bedroom and bath AND a balcony with a perfect crater view and 2 rocking chairs. Heaven. Two nights here...it's a wonderful prospect.
Retiring to the round lounge its 4-sided huge fireplace blazing, we relax a bit before dinner. P reading up on the Crater and tomorrow's expectations and me to work on this journal.
As I sit and write and wait to eat AGAIN (late lunch concluded around 3:30 – it's now 4 hours later and here we are eating again) I reflect on the role, the major role, of FOOD on safari. We get up, eat breakfast, sit in the Jeep, drive around and watch animals eat...or try hard not to be eaten...or rest after eating...or migrate to places where eating is better. Then we eat lunch. Afterwards it's back in the Jeep in hopes of seeing a carnivore eat, or think about eating, or snooze after a big meal. Then it's back to the Lodge for dinner, bed and to do it all over again the next day. Food's preoccupation can really fill up your day. Not to mention waistline, hipline, thigh line...
Anyway, dinner was terrific. James, the GM, came over with a complimentary bottle of the same merlot we'd enjoyed at Tarangire Sopa (that manager must have passed the word) and a quick chat. Nice man, heavy Scottish brogue and bubbling laugh. We'll have more time to spend with him tomorrow. Tonight's soup was cream of pumpkin with roasted cashews. Delicious. P had roast pork, tender for once, and I did trout, locally raised nearby in trout farms. Equally good. We could see the Southern Cross as we made our way back to the room. We'd seen it once at Mt. Kenya, and it was a clear, cold night like this one. The steam radiators worked well and we went to bed.
Thursday, 6 July
The day of the Crater! It was a cold morning and bundled up, armed with guidebooks, camera and lots of diskettes we headed out driving down through clouds. We passed a small acacia field trampled by elephants...lone bulls frequent the Crater and the sun shone as we reached the bottom. The Crater trip takes the better part of a day, making this a 2-night destination.
We drove slowly over the flat, semi-arid bottom, seeing the usual herbivore assortment, lazy resting lions, greater and less flamingoes in the lake which they share with hippos and other birds: eagles, hawks, swifts and sparrows as well as a female Kori bustard, largest flying bird in Africa. Never get tired of watching them and David's always right there with the book for a description and color plate view.
Getting so tired of the usual boxed lunch, we'd arranged for a "VIP" hamper and found a picnic spot under a copse of trees. Turns out we had enough food for Somalia in the hampers and it was "all more of the same." We invited 2 other drivers to share as they didn't have lunch and their "guests" were apparently not in the mood to share. Our little spot filled up with other 4X4's, the only vehicles allowed down into the Crater, and a troop of monkeys kept edging closer, looking for a handout. Feeding them is not only strictly prohibited but personally dangerous.
One particularly loud group of tourists (I say "tourists" as a pejorative) started to offer them something and one man almost got his hand bitten as the monkey snatched for the food. Good. Some people are unable to follow directions and have to learn the hard way.
P shot some wonderful movies of baboons grooming, and of gnu traveling single file, and the sound on these movies is awesome...thundering gnu hooves accompanied by their strange grunts. Having heard about black rhinos nearby we drove over (the "driver's network" at work, this was, passing the word as to where the interesting sights were) and could just make out 3 distant forms with the aid of Andrew's binoculars. Oh well, we've now officially (but not completely satisfactorily) seen the Big 5 in the wild. The Big 5 is what everyone wants to see and every driver strains to show his clients: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo.
On our way back up the Crater we came across 2 sleeping foxes under tiny bushes - you could barely see them they blended in so well. Back at the Lodge P tried to place a call for David to Nairobi but at $7/minute both decided it was just too expensive. We recuperated in the room, waiting for hot water to come on at 6 PM (these places have generator electricity, powered by diesel fuel and power is conserved wherever possible) for showers and looking forward to meeting James, the GM later. And, then, of course, we'll get to eat again. Slim Fast and salads in only a week from now and boy do we both need it!
However, that vented, we went down to dinner, stopping first at the shop but the logo shirts were all long sleeve and heavy. Shown to a different but just as nice table we noted the full dining room. This is a "must" stop for Tanzania and Sopa handles the large crowd flawlessly. Ordering our dinner, we're joined by James, who, perched on the radiator, told us about building the hotel: 350 workers, 2 years, all cement hand mixed and no formal architectural plans...that's Africa! We were intrigued especially by the enormous domed, vaulted roof and James told us a photographer actually climbed the scaffolding to take crater photos and was in fear every minute.
We ate our first 2 course while chatting. His personal touch was the tartan dressing gowns and slippers we found in the room. One of the women who works here whips them up in her spare time. He oversees the food, contributing recipes like the excellent goulash soup we enjoyed as we talked. My entree was a native dish: roast chicken in a spiced sauce with steamed cassava and it was wonderful. Finishing our wine in the bar, retired to a terrific and well needed night's sleep. Have no idea why we get so tired after really just sitting and eating all day, but we do. "Lalla salama" (pleasant dreams).
Friday, 7 July - The Olduvai Gorge & Serengeti
Well we are bright eyed, bushy tailed (what a weird expression that is) and very ready for today. This is my special day...we visit Olduvai Gorge. On the road at 7:45 AM after leaving a note for James thanking him for his generous hospitality we head up and out of the Crater. Driving halfway around to get the descent toad to the Serengeti, the clouds clear early and the morning chill evaporates. We're on our way.
Descending over the edge we pass Masai bomas and, stopping near one to get a photo, NOT of the boma, but of the mountains beyond, and suddenly, out of nowhere Masai stream in as expectations of photo payment materialize. The Masai are quite resourceful and expect to be paid for any picture-taking in their area. Extricating ourselves from this, we continue, marveling at how the plains flattened and flowed on to infinity on this, the west side of the volcanic mountains. We could make out a dark smear some ways off...that's the Gorge.
A short drive there brings us to the museum with its absorbing exhibit on the discovers in the Gorge, Laetoli and how it all fits together. Since, for me, this is akin to a religious experience, the time spent here flies. This museum has a wonderful panoramic view of the entire Gorge and, getting permission first, we begin the rocky road down into it. At the base there's a sign for the "Zinj" discovery ("Zinjanthropus" later confirmed as another australopithecine species) and that's where I want to go. Under Mary Leakey's direction this site is left accessible to visitors although rarely do visitors make the trip down. It's such a thrill to be here.
We continue a drive over and up an impossible track to the worker's settlement and beyond. Not sure exactly why we did this we suddenly turn around, retrace our steps and leave Olduvai (its name is a corruption of a Masai word for the sisal that grows from yucca plants which populate the area) behind – and not without a lot of awe and me in silent contemplation. The plains of Serengeti stretch ahead and we're due at the Serengeti Sopa for another 2 night stay.
Stopping at the Park entrance we eat whatever's edible in the picnic boxes and have a concentrated talk with David (as Andrew nurses a bad case of indigestion) As soon as we're officially into the Park, we encounter the famous kopje rock outcroppings and they are a very interesting landscape feature. Flat plains suddenly bubble up with these outcroppings, products of the ancient geological forces at work in the Rift Valley. The kopjes are the tips of buried mountains that the plains have almost entirely covered.
Driving to the Sopa, which is well within the Park boundaries, we find a mother cheetah with 3 very young cubs, small herds of both Thomson's and Grant's gazelles, kori bustards hunting, and a sprinkling of zebra. Andrew, taking a "short cut" over butt-numbing terrain (this Land Cruiser never lets you forget it's a 4X4) ends up getting us (finally) to the Sopa around 4:30. This Sopa is, the first non-circular design and its red sand exterior blends perfectly with the plains. What they do have, besides the usual massively imposing public areas and generous room size, is a view you could lose yourself in. The Serengeti lies below and we're on top of the world. Nice, nice spot.
Sitting on the terrace there's a tiny watering hope that attracts bush bucks, topis and zebra. As the sun makes its way westward the clouds and changing light bounce shadows, minute to minute. Cuckoos and horn bills squawk in the trees. William, the bar waiter, is intrigued by my order of passion fruit juice and club soda, which I mix and give him a sample to try. He either likes it or is too polite to say otherwise. I tell him it's a new drink he can name the "Passionate Joyce" and he laughs, although I'm sure he doesn't understand. At any rate, since he's doing the dinner shift we arrange to settle the bar bill in the dining room. This tiny aberration from what's usually done was the cause of much dilemma and later William finds us to ascertain that we have, in fact, cleared the bar bill. Deviations from the set schedule are at your own risk here. Dinner is OK...P's tilapia (the official food fish of Africa) and my beef stew are good, the pumpkin soup is wonderful as usual. Colin, the GM, joins us and we have another nice talk with an expatriate Scotsman. It's 8:30, for some reason we're exhausted and once P clears away the annoying and unnecessary mosquito net over the bed, we're asleep.
Saturday, 8 July
Hotel inspection day. After breakfast we "game drive" our way over to the Seronoma Wildlife Lodge. Enroute we come across a fascinating scene: a mother leopard, guarding the base of a tree waits while one of her cubs in the tree breakfasts on antelope. The other cub watches eagerly from the shade of a nearby bush, waiting his turn. And a hungry hyena keeps vigil for any falling scraps. This is the best view yet of leopards but unfortunately, too far to photograph.
Further on we cross a small stream that's dammed on one side, where hippos lie like boulders. It's about 50 km to the Seronoma Wildlife Lodge – at the lowest price end of the spectrum here. The rooms are basic, but clean and the public areas comfortable. But what really makes this place is the fact that it's built in, around and into a kopje, and kopje rock seems to grow throughout.
Next is the Serena, the upper echelon lodge, and it doesn't disappoint. Serena's specialty is the expert crafting of small, intimate spaces decorated with individual artistic flair. This Serena has round huts, beautiful carvings and a pretty location. But its view can't compare to Sopa's. Wilson, the Serena's manager, told us how, the night before, he was virtually trapped in his quarters as 15 lions, adults and cubs, decided to stretch out for a long rest surrounding him. In Tanzania, the animals are fiercely protected, so ultimately Wilson had to graciously forego his departure plans and stay put.
We've noticed a few differences between the two countries and, on the whole, we think we may prefer Tanzania. It's got its act together a little better than Kenya. Which was not what we expected when we started out. First of all, with the exception of Zanzibar, the roads are better...smoother and in better repair and they actually have directional signs and distances posted. For a driving safari, believe me, this reduces wear and tear. Park entrance formalities don't seem to take so long and you're not pestered annoyingly by the overly persistent Masai sellers. Also, there are no electric fences to keep animals away...just discrete signs advising guests not to walk beyond a certain point. One of our guide books explained that Tanzania thought they were losing out to Kenya so adequate resources were allocated to upgrade their offering. It does make a difference.
And the Parks we've seen here have been spectacular. We loved Tarangire, the Crater and now Serengeti. On the Kenya side, the Serengeti becomes the Masai Mara but the topography changes. Serengeti is longer stretches of flat, grassy plains with occasional green treed rivers, the mountains and kopjes beyond. The Masai Mara is more rolling, with vegetation dotting or spotting, to use the Masai word, the landscape. In either case you get "big sky" and you do feel comparatively small, not insignificant, just small.
The annual wildebeest, or gnu, migration follows the rains north from Serengeti in Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya...depending on when a safari is made you can see them in either location.
Driving back to the Sopa for lunch we pass an elephant drinking pool, with 8 or 9 of them enjoying the clear waters. Elephants are fussy...they'll walk hours to find a clean stream and then down 16 gallons – 2 gallons per trunk full, in an adult trunk. David says 17 hours a day they eat, they rest for 4 hours and the other 2 are spent walking. Zoo elephants must lead miserable, confined lives.
Interestingly, we also pass our first accident, or "crash" as it's more truthfully named. A "self drive" 4X4 had overturned and rolled. No one seemed terribly injured but the vehicle was a mess. Apparently its driver, unfamiliar with the insidious slipperiness of safari dust roads, took a turn too fast, spun and flipped. We were pleased to see the Stamford University safari convoy (we'd seen them all at Olduvai in marked buses) had stopped to help. Out here the "law of the sea" prevails – you automatically stop and give aid when needed. I asked David how long a pedestrian would last alive in the Serengeti – or anywhere in the bush for that matter – and he said chillingly "not even one night."
We ate lunch at the Sopa, one of only 3 occupied tables in the huge dining room. As usual everyone else is off on a day's game drive. Cauliflower soup this time and excellent as usual. P was so excited at brownies on the menu for dessert, but when they came, his excitement dimmed. A good pastry chef could make a fortune here.
With some hours to kill before our 4:30 game drive, our last in Africa, we settled on the terrace. P downloaded pictures into the computer, over 800 so far, and I wrote. Hearing a familiar snorting sound, I wasn't surprised to see zebra at the water hole. And if you keep very quiet you can hear all the noises familiar from the soundtrack of an African movie setting. Tawny eagles swoop, vultures circle, it's siesta time in the Serengeti.
At 4:30 we're picked up, to begin our last game drive. We encountered an interesting scene: a baboon troupe had invaded the "elephant bean" trees and were shaking the branches to get the tasty bean pods to drop. The baboons had to compete with an impala herd for the goodies, though, while Mr. Impala was trying, with little success, to get Miss Impala "in the mood." We watched for a while and then moved on.
Hot showers beckoned and the Sopa had a hair dryer so I enjoyed both. We met Colin, the GM, in the bar for drinks and a nice conversation. He's another Scottish ex-pat who fell in love with Africa and stayed. There's a lot of stories like that. At dinner we had a revelation. Ordering the native East African meal which came with "irio" and we asked what it was. Turns out "irio" was what we thought "ugali" was – and we'd had "ugali" a number of times since the Bomas of Kenya and had never liked it since. It was "irio" we liked and it's easy to make (a mash of corn, spinach or whatever green vegetable is at hand and mashable and potatoes) and I intend to make it. True to form it was bed after dinner and a sleep filled with weird dreams for both of us.
Sunday, 9 July - Starting for Home
Leaving the Sopa, our last safari hotel, was bittersweet. It's been an incredible experience, every minute filled with "New Adventures" as David is very fond of saying. I was awake at 5 AM and happened to hear a deep rumbling...mimicking the sound for David he let me know it was a lion's territorial roar. Very cool. But we're ready to be home, back with the horses, puppies, birds and all the waiting work.
We've got a long drive today to Arusha, retracing our steps exactly as we came in as there's only one route. Nothing much of note until we tackled the cloud covered Crater portion. The temperature dropped immediately and visibility was less than 50 feet at times. We made good time, though, and Andrew brought us to a place he knew for lunch. Luckless Andrew strikes out again. The hole in the wall native inn didn't have samosas and P was dying for them, did have the "rubber chicken special" and we all tucked in, me to a decidedly less than thrilled degree.
In truth we've really only had 3 truly awful meals in 4 weeks which is WELL above the travel average. AND, even more to the point, no "digestive upset problems," to put it delicately...we've mostly eaten in the hotels and haven't had a bit of a problem. Nor with brushing our teeth in the local water or with drinking the bottled water. My homemade water purification kit has gone unpacked and untouched.
As we were running ahead of schedule we stopped at the Lake Manyara Serena for an impromptu tour. They could not have been more accommodating. Tim, their naturalist, showed us around this "typically atypical" Serena, this one looked a bit like the Serengeti Serena, but different themes and colors. They have a hiking trail that traverses the Western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley and one of those "horizon swimming pools" that seemingly stretch to infinity. Very nice, the usual Serena quality.
Continuing, we made it to Arusha by 4:30. P had forced David to take the "client" backseat so he could personally endure the full effects of the tortuous unpaved 40 km stretch before the paved road began. As P now became "tour guide" by virtue of his front seat, lots of laughs ensued. At this point we're all loose, happy to be heading home and feeling like we've all had a good trip. A trip that even this long, bumpy ride couldn't ruin, although Phil has vowed that our clients will not be subjected to the drive more than once – they will drive one way and fly back to Arusha.
Andrew drove us to the Novotel and we're under impressed. P says this, like all Novotel's, is utilitarian...a business-oriented hotel with guaranteed standards of cleanliness but little in the way of charm. He's right. We check in, there's a TV and there's CNN and the novelty of watching TV overwhelms us. The news, however, is mostly bleak. AIDS in South Africa, Northern Ireland erupting again, and the Camp David Israeli-Palestinian summit in jeopardy due to internal Israeli partisan bickering.
Enough of this, we retreat to the "kilabu" (Swahili for bar and a very important word to learn) to kill time before dinner. My wine comes from a box and is successful at drawing flies. I am SO looking forward to the Norfolk for our final 2 nights. Dinner is average, the usual array of 3 star hotel selections but with the typically excellent starter soup. Finishing early we head back to the luxury of having CNN and watched an interesting special on granting political asylum in the U.S. No lions roared in the night and we slept.
Monday, 10 June
At breakfast we watched a thin but steady stream of backpackers find their way here – the enticements of hot showers and laundry is irresistible. We also found Suriac's friend, Munisi, in the restaurant (although his Anglicized name tag read "Fabian") and delivered the letter. Munisi, a bus boy, seemed a bit embarrassed by all the attention, thanked us, but when he turned back to the kitchen and started to open the letter he couldn't hide his grin. We speculated that Suriac with his out-going, sunny personality and far better English had really done well for himself. Starting as bus boy trainee and now working his way to waiter at Breeze's a la carte restaurant, he'd done very well. Probably a good future for him in Tanzanian Food & Beverage.
P went off to meet with the TAHI hotel people headquartered here in the Novotel and I took a call from Sopa HQ. Karim, the Sopa GM was ill and we were to meet with Mr. Stephen Spurgis, their operational manager instead. That particular meeting ran long but was chock full of content and insider scoop – all the better to formulate specifics on our various offerings. Stopping at the Arusha office we thanked the manager, Richard, for all his efforts.
He recommended we see the Iloma Safari Lodge, a small hotel, on our way out. We did and were extremely pleased with it, lots of character, beautiful gardens – a vast improvement over the Novotel's utilitarian monotony and will become our preferred lodging in Arusha. Finally we're on the road north and reach the border. Formalities are a breeze this time. We say Kwa heri to Andrew (who really did try his best for us) and David shepherds us off for an "urgent matter." It seems 3 American women have been stranded by the tour operator ("Big 5" was the operator in question) without a Nairobi transfer and they've got a night flight home that night to catch. Hakuna matata! Happy to give them a lift so they pile in and we're off for a quick bite and last minute shopping in Namanga.
Picked up some more of those colorful Masai bracelets and an Xmas gift for a neighbor, a fancier of knives and this one is a Masai knife, hidden in an "Masai elder stick" made out of ebony with copper inlay and is quite nicely done. And all for an outrageously low price, negotiated, of course. Chatting with the women on the way back to Nairobi we talked travel, experiences and briefly how the travel biz works...and who knows, perhaps they'll consider a New Adventures trip one day.
We dropped them at the Serena in town and continued on to the Norfolk. Oh how wonderful to be here, in one of the junior suites, which is precisely the room we'll use for our clients so we're happy to try it out and see how it "lives." It "lives" just fine. P got a golf shirt from the Norfolk (I love their logo...it has a buggy wheel built into the second "O") and we bought a International Herald Tribune. Relaxing in the room, getting ready for a leisurely meal, we read the paper, showered and caught up with CNN and YES! e-mail. Again, the connection was terrible...kept failing...P dashed off a quick note to Annie as did I on an Egypt matter and that was all we could get in. Anything at this point will wait till we get back.
Dressing for dinner we headed down to the Ibis Restaurant, the same place we enjoyed lunch with Liz Nicholas, Lonrho's Marketing Manager, a month ago...a whole month has passed, hard to believe. Dinner was extraordinary. P's pepper encrusted filet mignons prepared tableside in a burst of flaming cognac was very good, but mine was superlative. A chicken supreme, stuffed with some sort of macadamia dressing, finished with a papaya sauce. Incredible flavor and a wonderful atmosphere. The room is not crowded and we linger over wine and P's dessert...a veritable curved tower of sorbets over a huge platter of sauced fruits, a truly amazing display. The bed is perfectly comfortable and we're feeling fine. Only 2 more days to HOME.
Tuesday, 11 June
Taking out time this morning we try the online connection again. Still miserable. Sure didn't get our money's worth for the temporary e-mail access. It's a wonder Dallago is so current with their responses if this is the kind of service they have to grapple with. After breakfast P departs for his what will probably be a day-long meeting with Dallago. I park myself in the lounge, next to an electrical outlet, in a chair at a comfortable typing height and for 7 hours non-stop, input the rest of this journal. Editing this will be an equally demanding job, but I'll have my own machine to work on. This little one is giving me sore wrists and eye strain, and it's not really designed for 7 hours of steady use.
Tonight we're dining at The Carnivore with the Dallago principals, their wives and the representative from the Kenyan Tourist Authority. Maybe "Pumba" will be on the menu!
When P returns it's to relate nothing but satisfaction. The business relationship is strong, cemented and, as they say in B-school, "positioned for growth." Turns out he and Nick met with Peter, the Serena Hotels Marketing Director, over lunch and a hotel tour and Peter was encouraged to provide excellent pricing to Dallago for us. All in all, another excellent session. Dressing for dinner we take some time out to read a hilariously well-written editorial in the International Herald proposing that Al Gore pick Bill Clinton as his Veep. What a hoot. Well, we'll be back to our world soon enough.
We're picked up promptly at 7 by David and meet Nick and Irene, his wife, a thoroughly charming lady, at the Carnivore. This restaurant is a Nairobi institution. Owned by the same people who own the Tamarind in Nairobi and Mombasa (where just about a month ago we had one of the best meals of the trip), we weren't surprised to see that "Dining on a Grand Scale" reached new heights in this bastion of meat-eating paradise.
Essentially you're shown to a table, given a little flag to display, and so long as that flag is up, chefs visit you with enormous skewers of various roasted meat: beef, chicken, wings, pork, sausages, lamb...and then the exotics: crocodile, eland and zebra were featured this night. As much as you'd like to eat is carved off on the spot and you nip in. A variety of sauces are provided...chutneys, mint, fruit, garlic, barbeque, etc. Even though one might think this sets the stage for a "feeding frenzy" of a meal, somehow it remains in good taste, handled in a mannerly fashion.
Martin and Jane joined us after we were seated and unfortunately the Kenya Tourist Authority representative couldn't make it. The cocktail "doctor" visited our table with his "dawa" (Swahili for pharmacy) and proceeded to make drinks on the spot, or "medicine" as he joked. The evening was delightful...soon leaving serious conversation behind and delving into humor, the universal playing field leveler, and a rapt discussion of whether American Pro Wrestling, which apparently is a big hit in Kenya, is "real." The chefs kept coming, the plates kept getting filled...our African hosts certainly knew how to pack away provisions. Verdict on the exotics: well, in truth, there's an excellent reason why humankind domesticated food animals. However, an interesting experience as part of the Nairobi nightlife scene and the company was exceptional. With many offers of future visit exchanges we parted company and David took us back to the Norfolk.
Wednesday, 12 June - Finally, The SHOPPING.
Here it is. Our last day...and we'll be spending the morning SHOPPING! Every woman's dream! David drove us out to a collection of road-side craft shops as we wanted one last shot at the carvings. But we had to be careful to choose wisely as luggage space was now at a premium...and Kenya shillings were dwindling. These craft shops/artisans seemed to be some sort of artistic consortium....individuals had different specialties. There were preparers, actual artists, finishers and sales agents. And we were the first customers of the day so could therefore enjoy everyone's undivided attention.
While P went in search of carved bookends I had a special goal in mind. I REALLY wanted to find a nice picture frame with warthogs, as a gift for P...a thank you for making a long-standing personal dream of mine...this very extended trip to visit Africa...come true. At the first shop I hit gold. Selecting a pre-cut soapstone frame with a warm, wonderful tone and texture the illustration artist set to work to my specifications. "Pumba's" (since "The Lion King" P had rethought his favorite animals and warthogs are now very high on that list) were quickly sketched in, with baobab tree accents, a very satisfactory price was negotiated and I left him to his work.
Now in full escort by clamoring artisans as I just demonstrated my inclination to BUY my new entourage and I strolled over to a batik specialist and I thought: this would make a very nice gift for Annie. Inspecting everything and getting an explanation of how batik is done I selected a market scene, filled with color and vibrancy...and I hope Annie likes it. I know I do...and the artist told me start to finish took 2 weeks between the canvas preparation and all the waxing and screening involved.
Meanwhile P's garnered probably all the bookends in the entire village and has narrowed down the choices: he likes an ebony "simba" set and a rosewood "tembo" set (lion and elephant)...one for himself and one for our friend Marty for Christmas. Leaving me to do the negotiations which, I have to say, is getting to be more and more fun, we strike what turns out to be an excellent price (later at the airport gift shop we price a comparable set and it's 50% more for one than what we paid for 2 of them). Picking up the "Pumba" frame I am thrilled...Justin, the artist, has done an incredible job and it's polished, ready wrapped and perfect.
We extricate ourselves from these newfound friends and head for a bookstore. What we had in mind was a special gift for Driver David, in addition to his very healthy tip. Books are sacred to him and sometimes, frequently, beyond his reach price-wise. We wanted him to select the bird book of his choice as he really wants to learn more about this subject that he loves so much. Plus I wanted to get a gift for his son, and having seen the baobabs in Tarangire my first and best thought was a book I loved as a kid...and since it was coincidentally the 100th anniversary of the author's birth, "The Little Prince" it was to be. And I also knew I'd find Richard Leakey's "Origins Reconsidered" easier here than at home...so we proceeded. David, I think, was overcome at the book and delighted as well with the gift for his son. Mission accomplished.
Turns out Nick had luncheon plans for us. We journeyed north of the city for a tour of the Windsor Golf and Country Club. This fairly recent construction is one of a handful of golf clubs in Kenya and would be considered as a promotional incentive destination as well as a potential add-on for a golf enthusiast to unwind after safari. The resort is a vast, pseudo-Tudor complex with 3 guestroom types, enormous meeting areas and comprehensive health club (machines and sauna).
Lunched with the Assistant Manger on the terrace overlooking the first tee and wondered whether local rules here allowed you to drop a ball if a marabou or eagle made off with your original. Clearly the players here didn't seem too concerned and we saw quite a number of first rate drives. Windsor is part of an enormous planned community/entertainment area that will be years in the developing and is the concept of a single entrepreneur. Ambitious project, but what's been done so far leads us to believe it will see completion.
Arriving back at the Norfolk I give P the Pumba frame gift. He's thrilled with it, especially that it was created specifically for him. We repacked the luggage, carefully padding the carved purchases with laundry, relaxing for a bit and then making our way to the Lord Delamere Terrace for drinks and a light pre-departure meal.
This place has seen Travelers, Adventurers and Explorers...all leaving their mark, all part of the East African mystique. And suddenly we realize those are the perfect names for the 3 levels of tours we'll be designing. Toasting our creativity we settle back with our respective books, reading until the light fades. We ordered a light meal and were joined by Nick and Martin for final goodbyes. David and David, our escort twosome, drove us to JKIA for the 11:20 PM flight out. We kept goodbyes brief...neither of us likes the extended kind...but, we'll be seeing all the Dallago people again, and probably fairly soon. We fully expect so. East Africa will be one of those places always with a special allure, and now, also, a place of special memories.
Thursday, 13 June
The less said about the trip back the better. Groggy with sleep, desiccated by low ambient humidity and the utter indignity of airline air we retrace our steps. After some 18 hours of flying plus 4 on the ground we're back at JFK, escorting giraffe Mom & Baby through Customs. Hakuna Matata! we're through, catch the Delta flight to Atlanta...sit for another 2 hours as the Gainesville flight's delayed. When we're finally up and gone and then down and met by the limo driver back in Gainesville it's so good to be back we don't even care that P's bag (again) didn't make it, however, assurances that it would be delivered on Saturday were forcefully provided AND that's exactly what came to pass. Everything survived, including us...
...and we could probably be ready to do this all over again very soon.
Completed, 14 June 2000 Anthony, FL