Hi guys, so I've finally found a spare moment to keep you posted on my first couple of weeks of travels! Has been amazing so far, and can't believe it's only been that long! Anyway, to start at the beginning, we arrived in Nairobi at the end of 30 hours of transit to be met by the brother of a guy I'd only written to online. Needless to say we were a bit suspect when it turned out we could no longer stay with them and would be given a ride to a hotel in a 'taxi' which was actually just his friends car. Without much choice we handed over some money and hopped in.The ride into town provided our first taste of Africa, with people hawking everything from bananas to souveniers at every traffic light and sitting on the roadside everywhere. We eventually arrived at the hotel where it was a relief to finally relax with a swim in the rooftop pool. Godfrey also turned out to be a fairly genuine guy and he did help us get the hotel and showed us around Nairobi for the next couple of days! Our first night was spent getting to know the locals at the bar next to the hotel, where we met a guy who claimed to own the place and got us all a few rounds of drinks.
The following day we were met by Godfrey and a guide and driver he had recruited for the day. We set off for the Ngong hills on the outskirts of Nairobi where we were afforded an awesome view over the city on one side and the rift valley on the other. We then headed back into the suburbs where we walked through one of the open markets in the slum districts. It was a really surreal and sobering experience, like walking through a documentary. It's the things you can't see on TV though like the smell of stagnant water next to a butchery where meat sits out in the open surrounded by flies that are most confronting. It is hard to believe that people are still forced to live like this.
The final stop on our tour was the "Bomas of Kenya" which is a cultural centre exhibiting dance, food etc. of all the 42 tribes of Kenya. We tried a traditional lunch of Ugali (ground corn) and goat meat and watched some of the dancing before heading back to the city in time for our meeting with our tour group to prepare for our departure the next day. After the formalities, a few of us headed out for dinner and drinks and checked out a bit of the Nairobi night life. The place we went was quite interesting in that there was a DJ but no dancefloor so everyone just kind of stood up at and around their tables to dance. We were followed almost everywhere by stares as the only whites out of about 150 people in the club!
Sunday saw the start of our overland tour with Kumuka, with the first leg of the journey taking us north to Lake Naivasha. Here, we got our first opportunity to meet some of the wildlife, seeing zebra, giraffe, buffalo and gazelle on a walking tour through a nature reserve. It was also our first opportunity to get to know our group, who are all aussie and new zealanders heading to the world cup, mostly young couples and all great people. After a couple of weeks it seems like we have known them for years.
Next stop was the Maasai Mara national park and our first game drives. Only took about 10 mins in the park to find a herd of about 20 elephants that walked across the road about 10m in front of us. We also got up close and personal with a pair of lions, who decided to put on a bit of a show and get frisky while we were watching from literally 5m away! The next morning brought more lions and elephants amongst the many giraffe, zebra and gazelle, before we headed out to one of the Masaai villages that are dotted around the outskirts of the park. We were given the traditional welcome dance by the men of the village before being invited to join in the famous jumping dance. We were also shown inside one of their huts which are made of mud reinforced by wood and consist of a few tiny rooms. The whole village smells quite badly as they bring their goats inside the boundary at night to protect from predators. After we had been given the farewell dance by the ladies of the village, we struck up a soccer match with the guys. The maasai actually won 2-1, but we maintain it was mainly due to them being seemingly unaffected by the prickle infested ground we were playing on barefoot. After the match, I took the opportunity to give out some koalas to the kids that had been watching us, they were a little confused at first until i showed them that they could clip onto things at which they proceeded to run around attaching them to anything they could find. One thing that is amazing here is the children. As we drive through villages, they will stop and wave and something as small as a returned wave brings a smile to their faces. We saw a mother with a little girl sleeping on the streets in Nairobi, yet as we walked past the girl gave us a huge smile and a laugh and even her mother seemed happy to at least have her little girl. It really makes you think about the excesses we have at home - kids get all the toys and video games in the world yet still want more, but here they have so little, but are still so happy with the smallest things in life. I was a little worried about the volunteering in the foster home later in the trip as I haven't worked with children much before, but seeing the kids here I know it will be a privilege.
After the village experience we were on our way to Naroc, where it was raining on our arrival so we were offered to sleep in a hall which we gladly accepted. After making our way back to Nairobi the next day, we then said goodbye to Kenya as we crossed the border into Tanzania. Our first stop there was the snake park campsite in Arusha, which is literally a campsite combined with a reptile park. They had some massive pythons as well as the black mamba and a few crocodiles so we made sure the tent was zipped up that night. The next day we ditched the overland truck and piled into 4wd's for the trip out to the Serengeti. On the first afternoon there we saw four of the big 5 - leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo plus hippo and a cheetah. We also witnessed some of the vast herds of zebra and wildebeest which made up some of the last of the migration passing through. The second day there was a lot of excitement as we saw two cheetah on the hunt, first going after some gazelle before a herd of wildebeest wandered right across their path. They tried to single out a baby but couldnt get to it in the end...so close to seeing a kill! Back at camp, we could hear lions that according to our guides were less than a kilometre away. One of our group came out of the toilet to find two eyes staring at him from the grass...with no idea what it was he was forced to wait almost half an hour until it was so close he could hear it chewing grass and could rule out a lion. Turned out to be a buffalo which can still be quite dangerous so we were all advised to go to bed.
The next day we drove back out of the serengeti and up to the rim of the Ngorongoro crater. The following morning we descended into the crater for another game drive. We completed the big 5 but unfortunately could only see the rhino from a distance as it ran off as we approached. We also had another close encounter with some lions walking past about 1m from the car. After that it was back for a night at snake park en route to Dar es salaam and Zanzibar!
After about 12 hours of driving, from 5am to 5pm we finally arrived in Dar es. Thankfully the place we stayed there was amazing with a pool, hot showers and bar right on the beach. The next day we set of on the ferry for Zanzibar. Once there, we were given a tour of stone town which included the old slave markets, for and house of wonders. We watched an amazing sunset from the balcony of the africa house hotel with the silhouettes of palm trees and dhows on the water in the foreground before heading down to the night fish markets for some dinner. After much bargaining I eventually got what was apparently lobster and shark on a skewer (still a bit skeptical about that one :P) and some zanzibar pizza for about 5 bucks.
The next day we left stone town on our way to the northern beaches, stopping in at the central fish and produce markets. This was quite an experience, especially the meat and fish sections where the hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. We watched a guy go nuts with a tomahawk hacking up cows heads to get every last bit of meat out. I was standing about 5m away and still got hit by shards of bone! Definitely not a place for the weak of stomach. We also stopped in for a tour of a spice farm, which was slightly more appetising as we sampled the different spices and fruits grown there.
We eventually made it to our bungalows on the beach which was amazing. The next three days were spent swimming, sunbaking, and partying it up with locals and tourists at one of the many bars on the beach. One night started with a 'booze cruise' on a traditional dhow which took us up and down the coast. On the last day we went snorkelling on the reef about half an hour out from the island which was pretty sweet although my 'waterproof' cameraunfortunately decided not to live up to it's name. This brings us to yesterday, when we returned to Dar Es Salaam. Being a sunday, the beach was packed with locals, dancing, playing soccer and floating around in old tire tubes. We had an early night ready for a 4am start today! I actually wrote most of this on someones laptop during another long day of driving. About 10 hours yesterday and again today as we made our way through southern Tanzania and into Malawi. Now sitting in a bar on the beach of Lake Malawi, a bit of beach soccer and watersports tomorrow. Anyway, will keep you updated again in a couple of weeks. Hope all is going well back in Oz or wherever you are reading this from.