This weekend felt like my first adventure here. It made me realize my skills are a little rusty since my travels in South America several years ago. My co-worker/roommate J invited me to see her friend from college, C, who is Kenyan and was in Kenya for two weeks (visiting from the U.S.). She was spending a few nights with her sister in the town Nakuru a few hours from Nairobi. My immediate answer to whether I wanted to go was yes and I figured the details would work themselves out later.
We were initially going to take a Matatu bus there, which are these crazy packed mini-vans that usually have funky designs on the outside. A few nights ago we had heard that our friend’s roommate was pick-pocketed on one and so we checked with the man who gave us our security briefing about whether it was safe for us to take one of these to Nakuru. He replied, “50/50” which was less than comforting. He smiled and said to call him if we had any problems. I had on an impulse bought a money belt so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. We had to read directions on how I was supposed to wear it and it certainly was not fashionable and made it difficult to get money out, but I felt secure!
I also forgot the golden rule of adventure travel. If you are doing something at all risky, you can never let your parents know you are nervous. This usually leads to a spiral whereby they become nervous, then that makes you second-guess your decision, and you are worse off than you had been if you had just not shared your concerns. (Mom and Dad forget you read this).
In the end it turns out we were actually taking a bus that was slighter tamer than a Matatu. It was a three-hour ride and I became fixated on the concern that I would have to pee five minutes into the ride. J has noticed how frequently I go to the bathroom so recommended I not drink any water the night before or morning of our trip. I followed directions and walked out of the apartment thirsty, but without my anxiety in tow.
We got to pick our own seats on the ten-passenger mini-bus and we sat in the front. It was really spacious and though we tried our best to stay awake for the majority of the trip, we kept our eyes open through half of it. It was an amazing ride. On the road I saw several different signs for driving schools, an advertisement for a prophet that could cure aids, and various goats, sheep, and cows. The landscape was acres of lush green farmland. There was a point where it felt like there was a small forest on the side of the road with tall trees that could be found in the Western U.S. As we got closer we looked out onto a huge valley. This was all made more beautiful by the fact that the sun finally came out. Kenya felt really different outside of Nairobi and I felt more relaxed. Even when we arrived in Nakuru despite the bustle of the small town I felt I could let my guard down a little.
On the way to the house we saw what a suburban Kenyan town looked like. One site that didn’t fit in with the rest of the beautiful scenery was this huge area filled with garbage. It wasn’t quite a landfill just a plot of land dedicated to garbage. We saw pigs and enormous birds that started making themselves comfortable there. We saw people walking along the small roads and a group of young boys yelled Wazungu (white people) at us jokingly.
Once we got to C’s house we were immediately welcomed by her family. Even more exciting was the fact we were going to get to spend the day touring Nakuru with her three nieces. Children make any situation more comfortable. No one is looking at you when kids are around and if you run out of things to say you can make a silly face or ask a child a question. Additionally, it seems that children are the same no matter where in the world you go. They are entertained by the same goofy sounds and games.
Our first stop was Lake Nakuru Park. On the drive in we immediately felt like we were at a park in Africa because baboons were walking on the road we entered on. Several Kenyans were laying out on the grassy area around the park just like any other park in a town. The baboons roamed around and only seemed to get excited when someone brought food. We drove to the lake, but decided not to enter the park as the admission fee was $80 per person (although we heard its much cheaper for Kenyans). The lake seemed to be almost running into the parking lot and we did not spot any of the famous flamingos that are known to spend time there. As we were staring at the lake and taking pictures with the girls some baboons jumped on a car next to us. I got a few pictures, but decided it was best to not be the tourist with the camera in a wild animals face. On the way out we saw a zebra and some buffalo in the distance. It was wonderful to be outside in the sun and having these experiences. Especially experiencing it with such great company.
After Lake Nakuru we went to Hyrax Hill. We missed the official tour so took ourselves on our own little trek up the hill. The journey began to a little gated area with tortoises. As we walked up a staff member of the park followed us to inform us the tortoises were mating. This was something we did not expect to see and we were repulsed yet fascinated at the same time. The hike up the hill was pretty rocky so we took turns carrying the three year old. It took her most of the day to warm up to us, but slowly smiles would come out. Her Swahili was much better than her English so many times I wasn’t sure what she was saying, but I knew she wanted to walk on her own despite the fact that the three adult girls were struggling up the hill. There was a nice view and we had another photo shoot while the girls ate biscuits (cookies) and juice. As we walked back we couldn’t believe we made it up there with the three of them. J and I were the only ones in sneakers too. We came back and looked at the prehistoric artifacts in the museums and learned about the different tribes in Kenya. I did not realize how closely people here still identified with their tribe and our guide was trying to guess what tribe C was from, but couldn’t guess correctly. As we were exploring the museum he also mentioned he saw a poisonous snake right before we left, but did not want to ruin our excursion.
As we waited to get picked up the little girls taught us a dance to the alphabet song and helped me with my Swahili. It is quite humbling to have a five year old and a seven year old slowly count to ten and wait for you to repeat each number after them. They never let me get away with saying a word wrong.
I ate a lot of delicious chapatti at dinner (Kenyan bread that tastes similar to Indian nan) repeatedly thanked ou hostess. She smiled and said that it was her pleasure and having us there made the house warmer. J’s friend similarly told her we added so much life to the house. I slept better that night than I have since arriving to Kenya. I am not sure if it was playing with children, walking around in the fresh air, or the joy of the experience, but it was something I am deeply grateful for. For most of the trip I felt like my whole body was smiling. It could not have been a more perfect first adventure to get me back on track.