Out of Santa Rosa (2)

We landed in Nairobi at about 7:00 a.m. after two days of flying and went through customs (noticing all the posted Ebola warning signs on the wall).  No big deal.  We were picked up along with our fellow travelers by the guides and taken to our hotel to check in.  We had a chance to meet with our 10 fellow travelers who came from various parts of the US.  It turns out that some of them were very nice (3), one was a very very large 79 year old woman, there were two self-obsessed people, one aggressive bird watcher, two rich crazy people and their interpreter/mediator.  Overall the group didn’t differ that much from the folks ship-wrecked on Gilligan’s island.  This will be a nice way to see Africa I thought.

Anyway, our guides seemed to have no idea that we’d been traveling for two days so after an hour at the hotel we headed off to see the highlights of Nairobi, both of them.  Let me put it this way,  I strongly recommend everyone see Kenya.  You will see wonderful and amazing things.  It will change your life.   I would also recommend that when you go there get the hell out of Nairobi as quickly as possible.  Be that as it may we had a travel transition day there before we headed to where the wild things are.  What was most notable that first day (besides my intense desire to take a nap) was our visit to the home of writer Karen Blixen.  She apparently was a serial name-changer and had about four different names that she wrote under, the most prominent being Isak Dinesan.  She is most famous for her book “Out of Africa.”

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This autobiographical book became a big deal movie many years ago starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.  I never have seen that movie.  At the time it looked to me like it was a combination of a National Geographic special, with lots of flying flamingos and then they throw this sappy love story into the middle of it.  I figured I’d just stay home and watch National Geographic.  From what I can recall it didn’t have a single car chase scene, so I skipped it.  I’m sure I’m much more mature now and would love to see a good romantic movie.

But what I didn’t know is that Dinesan had also written the book Babette’s Feast.  Now that actually is one of my favorite all time movies.  Its a story about this woman who is the best chef ever but has to flee France to live in this very stark Danish seaside town.  Her cooking transforms the hearts of some small people and their world opens up to love.  Granted there weren’t any good car chases in this movie either, probably because its set sometime in the 1800s plus the Danish have never built any good cars even though they excel at sweetrolls, but still its a  pretty good movie.  Knowing Dinesan wrote Babette’s Feast made the journey to her home worth it.

The next morning we packed up, jumped in one of the two vans and prepared to head north about six hours to Samburu National Park.  Our first game drive was ahead and I was anticipating seeing all the animals in their natural environment for the first time (except for a few of the ponies I see regularly down at the racetrack).  This would be making a lifelong dream come true.  But there was a problem.  It turned out there were demonstrations in downtown Nairobi and all the roads through town were filled with burning tires.  This forced us, along with the rest of Nairobi to take the alternate route.  What followed was the most amazing traffic jam I’ve ever been in.  We were on a two lane road (one lane in each direction) which suddenly transformed itself into five lanes, four of which were coming at us.  Cars were using the side of the road as a lane, they used ditches as lanes.  This was my first free-range traffic jam. It was so bad drivers were getting out of cars and directing traffic and telling which lanes to merge with each other.  Then in the middle of all this with cars bumper-to-bumper going every which way, in come some Masai herders with all of their cows walking through the whole mess.  I’m not talking about one of two cows.  There must have been 50-75 of them.  It turns out that the one traffic law in all of Kenya that everyone agrees to is that Masai herders and their cows have the right of way.

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Ultimately, we made it through and found the clear highway north.  From this point on the trip became MAGIC.

I’ll continue with the trip in the next post.  However at this point you’re probably thinking, ‘OK, two posts about a safari and not one damn wild animal picture.  OK, I’ll leave you with this:

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Out of Santa Rosa (1)

If you’re wondering (and I know you are) why there haven’t been any posts for way too long, there has been a good reason.  In September the Fabulous Miss K and I decided spin the globe again and when I touched it with Mr. Pointerfinger it stopped on the Kenya/Tanzania border.  This is in Africa.  So we signed up for a safari (hey, the browser I’m writing this in is called Safari too…how cosmic is that?) that would take us to Kenya and Tanzania.  Two and half weeks through six game parks sounded pretty good.  So we got our shots (TB, yellow fever, pellagra, hepatitis, warts, tourettes, etc.), and took off.

Anyway, back to why I haven’t written… well the internet availability was spotty to say the least, the pace of the trip allowed for almost no down time to write and reflect, plus I couldn’t download my photo till I got back since my iPad told me it was full when I first tried (it seems to me that Siri could have told me this before I left but I think she was having a snit and kept her mouth shut).  So it all had to wait until I returned and recovered from the respiratory illness I picked up.  Wait…I know what you’re thinking.  I came back from Africa with an illness?  Rest assured it was not e-bola.  This was a much milder, though related illness referred to as d-bola.  It responds well to war won ton soup and intensive study of the National Enquirer while you lay in bed.  In any case, because I’m playing catch-up, the description of the trip will be split over a few (as yet undetermined) blog entries.

When we told our friends we were about to head to Africa several of them quietly freaked out and mentioned that they feared we would contract ebola or succumb to terrorists and the Boko Haram (not related to Procol Harum.  It turns out Boko Haram was voted the least likely group in the whole world to be caught singing Whiter Shade of Pale.)  First off let me say that ebola was thousands of miles away in east Africa whereas we were in west Africa.  Geography does matter.  As for the terrorism problem, most of the incidents in Kenya happened in the north near Somalia (except for that incident in the Nairobi mall) and we wouldn’t be close to that area at all (except for the mall in Nairobi).  Nor was I particularly worried when our State Department issued a warning against travel in Kenya because of the terrorists. Granted all the tour companies in Great Britain had terminated their trips and shipped the Brits back home.   OK, maybe I was a little worried.  But then I realized that the Foreign Service office of  Great Britain had also issued a travel warning against the United States because of all of the violence and guns here.  It reads:

“Violent crime related to the drugs trade is a major issue in the Mexican states along the border with California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Though some foreign nationals have been among the victims in the border region, there is no evidence to suggest that they have been targeted because of their nationality. Be vigilant in all border areas and follow the advice of local authorities.

Violent crime, including gun crime, is not limited to the border areas. Incidents rarely involve tourists, but you should take care when travelling in unfamiliar areas. Research your destination before travelling and seek local advice about areas with high levels of criminal activity.”

In retaliation our state department has issued a warning against travel in Great Britain because of the danger of eating their food (especially Spotted Dick) and because their weather sucks.

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THE TRIP BEGINS

OK, so I have to admit that at the beginning I was confused.  First off, it only took us about six hours to get there and frankly the place didn’t look all that African.  It wasn’t until I spotted my first lion that I knew we were in Africa.

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Spotting the first lion. An exciting moment!

It turned out we were actually at the NYC public library and the Fabulous Miss K re-oriented me.  I forgot we were going to spend three days there before we left for Africa.

So a lot has been written about New York and I won’t do a travelogue about it.  I only offer these two observations:

  • Since I’ve last been there, about three years ago one noticeable change has been the missing ubiquitous black Lincoln Town Cars used by both the car services and the mafia.  Lincoln discontinued this model which put the car services and the mafia in a quandary.  The car services seemed to have all switched to giant black SUVs w/ blacked out windows.  Its looks like about 15% of the cars on the street are operated by the Secret Service.  It is totally unclear as to how the mafia is currently transporting the dead bodies.
  • Second… I like New York but the main problem is the place is too crowded and there are too many people walking somewhere. I can’t stand crowded sidewalks.  My suggestion is that they change their policy and only allow half the people to be on the street at any given time.  This could be done easily if they used a system much like Disneyland uses.  On each corner they should put a sign with a height marker set for the average height.  On even number days people who are taller would be allowed to go about their business and the shorter people would need to stay inside (and out of my way).  On odd numbered days those who don’t reach the marker get their chance to go outside and mill about, or go to work, or whatever it is that they do.  The taller folks can stay home and watch Judge Judy or pay their bills or whatever it is they need to do.  I think that would work better and make the city a much more enjoyable place to be.  As it happens I just happen to be of average height so I could go out whenever the hell I felt like it.   I have forwarded this suggestion to the new mayor and eagerly await his response.

In any case while in NY we had a chance to see the David Letterman show and take a walk on the new Highline Park.  That’s not to be missed.  Eventually we show up back at JFK for our flight to Nairobi.  Actually its a flight to Paris on American Airlines and then a switch to Kenya Airlines to get to Africa.  Only our flight out of JFK was delayed by 4 hours because the plane was broken.  So they gave us $12 vouchers to eat while they found a plane that could fly and moved our luggage onto it.   Since coffee costs $4.50 a cup at that airport we basically got vouchers that weren’t good for anything.   Thanks a lot American Airlines. We got on the plane and then waited for the 23 planes in front of us to take off.  Another hour delayed.  The Fabulous Miss K almost had another birthday.  Finally we’re airborne and they tell us we’ll miss our connecting flight to Africa.  So we land in Paris and then they tell us the new plan.  Wait all day in the Paris airport and then get on a night plane going to Amsterdam (note:  Amsterdam isn’t Africa, its the opposite way, but hey at least in Amsterdam we can see a few tulips, drink Heineken and smoke reefers).  Then we’ll transfer to a plane going to Nairobi.  To make us feel better American Airlines gave us more vouchers for food to use in the Paris airport.  The good news:  IT’S FRENCH FOOD.  The bad news: NO VENDORS IN THE PARIS AIRPORT ACCEPTED THE VOUCHERS.  Even when I tried to use them for french fries, french toast or a french kiss.  No fucking dice.

OK, this is where the whining stops.  We got on another all night flight (2nd night in a row)  on Kenya Airlines.  I was expecting an old converted Aeroflot jet.  Boy, am I ignorant.  This was a brand new B777.  It was the nicest airplane I’ve ever been on.  The service and the food were also the best I’ve had on a plane.  By the time the flight was over I was encouraging Kenya Airways to buy out crappy American Airlines and become a US domestic carrier. I hate Las Vegas but if Kenya Air flies from the Bay Area to Las Vegas I’ll go.

So after another ten hours of flying  we finally land in Nairobi.  I want you to know that while I’m not too happy about all the inconveniences of this flight I do realize that getting to the other side of the world in two days is still a miracle.

I know there are some who may be skeptical that this trip occurred.  Especially since I’m not giving you any details of the trip at this point.  Only promises that I’ll tell you later.  I understand these reservations on your part.  Personally, I don’t believe Neil Armstrong actually landed on the “moon.”  I have proof that the whole thing happened in a movie studio in a suburb of Houston.  I will publish my proof at a later time.  However at this point I am willing to offer the photographic proof below that I was in Africa.  See if you can spot me in this group photo taken on the Serengheti.

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Proof he was actually in Africa. Can you spot the author in this photo?

The African trip starts in my next entry.