Thursday, April 28, 2016

On the Road: Kenya


This was the last stop on my East African visa. I knew Kenya had a mystique about it that had been attracting adventurers for over a century. First there were the tradesmen and explorers. Ernest Hemingway later went to shoot big game. I’d wanted to see the same amazing animals. But I abhor gun violence. I had my trusty camera to aim instead. The question was which national park to visit? Looking at the map I needed to pick carefully. I’d only have time to explore a few places and the rest of Kenya would have to wait for another time. But that was okay. I’ve said time and time again that you can’t see everything. Better to focus on what interests you most and then get to enjoying it.      
Kenyan National Flag

Upon entering Kenya, Gati and I traveled overland to Nairobi, a thriving, built up city of 5 million. Our top priority was to get local SIM cards because we needed to contact our CS host David. But it was his wife we met first. She'd gone into the center to have her hair done and while we waited for her to finish, Gati and I explored the vicinity. The feel of this part of Nairobi was very cosmopolitan and not at all shabby like in other African cities. The Kenyan capital was also known as Nairobbery.  I'd heard stories that thieves ran rampant in the streets, targeting tourists. But not once did we find anyone threatening though we did later make it a point to not stay out after dark. Anyhow, once Helen was done at the salon--new extensions dangling from her head--we rode a local bus to her home. The apartment was a ways outside the center in a quiet area. I met David there and he said he worked as a tour operator at the safari parks. I gave him advice about setting up a webpage. Gati and I also cooked dinner. We prepared chicken and rice. It came out tasting funny because of the limited, unfamiliar spices at my disposal.

Since I was again in a big city I took care of some serious business. First I bought glasses. My old pair had become scratched, and one of the lenses was so useless, I’d thrown it out. At the store an Indian woman gave me an eye exam, before showing me the types of frames available. With the help of Gati's sense for fashion, I settled on a cheap, somewhat stylish metal frame. In total the glasses cost me $75. The other thing I had to do was take in my camera for servicing. While I'd been traveling the sensor had collected dirt, and though only tiny specs, they created circular blotches in my photos. I'd been able to remove them post edit with my computer but it was becoming increasingly annoying. Then I heard there was a Nikon service center that would clean the camera for free. So I went to the place but discovered it had moved. Days later I visited the new place as well, but because it was the Easter holidays no technicians were on site. What frustration! After running around the city I'd failed to get my camera cleaned.

In Nairobi, the one big sightseeing stop in the city proper was the National Museum. The entry fee cost $12, more than I'd liked to have paid, but it proved to be a good way to spend an afternoon. Inside were exhibits about Kenya's many animal species. I liked the bird one most. The white room contained glass cases where within perched taxidermist samples staring off into space. Also of interest was the exhibit regarding the evolution of man. Kenya, after all, had been home to many fossil findings pertaining to our humanoid ancestors. I spent some time sizing up the lifelike models of these monkey men. The figures gave me chills simply on account of their realism, as if the faces not only represented a living creature, but also a kind of intelligence. There was other stuff in the museum too. We saw displays about Kenya's history, and one floor featured cultural artifacts from across Africa. All in all the exhibits were very informative.
Dinner at Couchsurfing
Nairobi Center
Railway Line
National Museum
Kids on Tour
Some Statue
Maasai Lands

Kenya is a country with dozens of tribal groups and many have their own language. The largest is the Kikuyu. But to the outside world the most known is the Maasai. One needs only to think of the black slender figure, clad in red, a spear at his side, and that's the image of the Maasai warrior. I'd always been fascinated by tribal warriors since first watching the 1986 Shaka Zulu TV miniseries. Of course that dealt with the Zulu people in South Africa, but in my adolescent mind the spear carrying blacks of Africa, whatever the tribe, had been one people. Now, all these years later I was absolutely delighted to discover on the workaway website that I could volunteer at a Maasai village. After a few emails back and forth, the matter was settled. Gati and I took local transport south of Nairobi to an area called Kajiado. Because the host I'd contacted was in America, his wife Eunice fetched us at the nearest town of Kiserian. From there we rode a bus over a pothole ridden tract into the bush. The open landscape was laden with acacia trees and brushwood, red earth exposed in hard patches. It had rained recently so the vegetation was unexpectedly green. When we got off to walk to the village I saw herds of cows and goats chomping at everything within reach.

Eunice's home was a modest structure with corrugated iron sheets for a roof. It was not where I'd expected a Maasai family to live, and as I'd soon discover, the village was somewhat developed. The houses had solar panels for electricity, and there were rudimentary gutter systems and large tanks for water collection. The next village over even had solar powered street lights thanks to Akon. A half year before the Senegalese American entertainer had donated them as part of his ongoing Light For Africa project. There were no such lights around Eunice's home though, so aside from the glow of the moon, it was black after hours. I still found the nights to be pleasant. The stars shone bright in the sky and when the wind blew, the surrounding bushes rustled with calming effect. The Maasai world was an eerily wild one with untamed life at every turn. I now recall the villagers saying that hyenas prowled into the village under darkness, but if they did, I saw or heard no sign of them.

The village was spread out over a very large expanse of bush with a valley running beside it. Where Eunice lived the houses were spaced 200m apart or more. Each house had a corral in front for the herd animals. In place of wooden fences, thorny sticks were driven into the ground to form the sides. Some houses had mud walls plastered with cow dung, but the iron roofs remained commonplace. The Maasai traditionally lived in a hut called a manyatta, yet with modernization this group had already given up on them. Most the people had switched to wearing Western style clothes as well. Only the elders seemed to prefer the red robes, and in the case of the women, plenty of jewelry. As for the children, they attended class regularly to get an education. The one school for miles around was in the area’s biggest village, and for many of the kids the walk took an hour or more.

While her husband Jonathan was away, Eunice looked after their baby son Moses. In the house lived Milka as well. She was a 9-year old girl who the family had adopted after her mother had passed away some time before. Everyday Eunice and Milka worked together to do the daily chores. They cooked too. The food was beans, cornmeal, rice and potato. If we were lucky we sometimes had bits of meat. To get a better variety of cooking ingredients Eunice needed to go to Kiserian, more than two hours away, and the transport ran infrequently. It didn’t matter to Moses. The little boy ate whatever was put in his face. I'd never seen a two year old with such appetite. He stuffed himself at least five times a day. To be honest, Moses seemed more animal than human. With his perpetually runny nose he breathed in a growl like manner. And the boy was always filthy. He'd play in the dirt and stick all manner of object in his mouth. Seeing this, I wanted him to stay at least two feet from me at all times. If I could have put him in a giant hamster ball I’d have done so. Milka by comparison acted prim and proper. She was also good spirited and so helpful to Eunice that Gati and I joked she was more of a slave than an adoptee.

As the days passed there wasn't much to do in the house. To kill time Gati and I would often sit in the living room with a book. I read The White Maasai, a story written by a Swiss woman who had married a Maasai warrior and lived with him in an isolated village north of Nairobi. She toughed it out for four years before giving up on her jealous husband and returning home. The story had taken place far away in another region of Kenya. Life in our village was more mundane I’d say. Neighbors often dropped by and sat for a while. Or they invited us to their homes. It was the custom to serve guests chai, a type of milk tea with loads of sugar, and I quickly took to it. When talking with the neighbors, if they needed help with something, I gladly did what I could. One time I attempted to milk cows. They didn't like me and ran away. Later, when the village women made jewelry to sell, Gati joined them, stacking small beads on to a string. That same day Eunice cut my hair. I was expecting a trim. Instead, she snipped right down to the base, and with the damage done, I ended up with a shaved head. Eunice called it a Maasai cut. I wasn't pleased. But not because of how it looked. I was more worried I'd get sunburn. Lucky for me Eunice presented a bottle of sunscreen that another volunteer had left behind.
Eunice, Milka and Moses
Kiserian Market
Playing a Board Game
Making Beads
Local Station

Gati and I had come to the Maasai Lands to help at a local school. English seemed to be the subject for us to teach. But the headmaster had us do social studies and math as well. After a few classes Gati didn't feel comfortable teaching. She instead focused her energies on building wash stations outside the school’s toilets. To make them she needed a few supplies which the headmaster was slow at providing. While we waited we explained nutrition and hygiene to the children. In the dry, isolated bush, both were a problem. Then with the help of another volunteer we erected the wooden posts for the first wash station. The school kids watched us work. It was odd for them to see muzungu doing hard manual labor. But we still lacked a jerry can to complete our task, and when we left, we had the other volunteer promise to finish everything in our stead. I never did find out if he remained true to his word.

Another way we helped was at the rescue shelter. 70 young girls lived there with the matron, a middle aged woman named Beatrice. The girls had run away from home to avoid early marriage which was still a common practice among the Maasai. Men traded cows for a neighbor's daughter, and she would be forced to wed right away, sometimes as young as 12 or 13. To worsen the deal, the girl would have to undergo female circumcision. This was the removal of the clitoris with a knife, a very painful process which could cause the girl to bleed to death. My host Jonathan was against this practice and he'd gone to America to secure donations to keep the rescue shelter going. In the shelter the girls slept on simple bunk beds and had a chest for their belongings. During the day they went to school where I taught them and the other students. Jonathan asked that I take photos of some of them in the hopes that we could find them foreign sponsors. It never happened though because he failed to send me the names of which girls.

I enjoyed my time with the students. In class, it didn't matter what I taught, they sat and listened. And if I asked a question several hands shot up without fail. Sometimes the kids wanted to be picked so badly they snapped their fingers at me. I told them not to, but it was too much a cultural thing for them to stop. The school had eight grades and I taught them all. The youngest took the most interest in me. They wanted to touch my hair and scratch at my beard. Some feared me though. It took a few days for them to come around. And it's not as if I was the first volunteer. Because of Jonathan the school got around five foreign visitors a year. At any rate, the kids spoke good English. They told me about their lives. In the area lived giraffes and when one died the villagers divided the meat among the families so the children ate the meat every so often. From another boy I learned that the villagers still hunted. They killed predators that threatened the herd animals. One 10 year old said he had speared a cheetah. If not predators the local Maasai hunted wild pigs, gazelles and a small type of goat called a dikdik. The latter they searched for at night with a flashlight. The bright beam would freeze the animal in place, making it easy to club over the head.

One day school finished early. So after lunch a group of the older students took me to see the wild giraffes that lived in the bush north of the school. The boys said the giraffes were a half hour away on foot but when we got to the spot the herd had moved on. We didn't see any until an hour later, a solitary male that moved alone. I'd later learn that it had been shocked by electric wire, and for this reason had a slanted neck and only half a tail. The rest of the herd was another half hour away. There were 35 in total, both adult males and females, and their young. As we approached, the herd kept its distance. They obviously did not like the look of us. I shot dozens of photos and some with the school boys in the foreground. One boy wanted to chase them before we left, but I said no. Frightened animals react unpredictably and better not to mess with ones that were 7m in height.
Teaching English
School Buildings
Church Mass
Wild Giraffes
In Class

From the beginning, while traveling on the road, I was meeting so many people that it wasn't so rare for me to talk to someone who'd visited my hometown of San Diego. Usually they were other tourists. Occasionally though I did come across a local who had been there. In the next house over from Eunice's one young guy told me he too had gone to San Diego. His name was Solomon.  After speaking to him I learned he was only 16 and a student at the school I was volunteering at. A year before another volunteer from San Diego had invited him to her family's home for a month. In that time he'd attended school and made many friends. What's more, Solomon planned to return to San Diego and stay another two years to study at high school. If so, I'd be able to meet him again in America. I told him we could go hiking together, a pastime we both enjoyed. I'd also take him to the best burrito restaurant in town.

Solomon lived with his family. His father William was a kind man who spent most his days looking after the family cows. In his younger years though, he'd been a Maasai warrior. Back then lions were a problem because they threatened the herd animals, so the warriors had to hunt them down with spears. Solomon told me that the warriors attacked in a group, and the first to grab the lion's tail received the head as a trophy. Nowadays the lions had moved further south into the deep bush, or they lived in the national parks. More the better for them because the Maasai had no fear of the large cats. It was water buffalos that posed more of a threat. But due to human encroachment they too had left the area. The only real remaining danger were venomous snakes. When walking in the bush I needed to keep an eye out. I never saw one, thank God, but if I had, I'd've run away like a little girl.

Solomon too was afraid of snakes. I don't think he feared anything else. The Maasai were raised to be tough and manly. For example, in their culture the only appropriate time to cry was when someone died. But for me, the greatest measure of their toughness was they endured their passage into manhood. Every December, the 15 year old boys from the tribe went into the bush alone with the herd animals for a night. It was a test to show that they could protect the animals from predators. Once they returned to the village the boys then lay on their backs and an elder ritually circumcised them using a small knife. This too was a test. In spite of the incredible pain, the boys could neither cry nor scream. They couldn't even clench their hands. If a boy failed, the tribe would never consider him a real man. He'd have to live in shame for the rest of his life, unlikely to find a wife or own cows. But not Solomon. He suffered through the circumcision test in stoic silence.
Solomon Poses
Real Deal 

Some kilometers south of where I was staying, I went to another village with William. In this place the Maasai still lived in manyattas. There were only four, and around them a tight line of thorny posts formed a circular perimeter. In the center stood the corrals for the goats, cows and donkeys. The small village had two families, and between them they owned over 100 goats and about 30 cows. The animals were their livelihood. They provided meat and milk, and in the event that money was needed, the animals could be sold off for good money. I learned that a goat went for up to $70. And an adult bull could fetch ten times that amount. But it took time for the animals to mature and in the meantime they required much attention. For example, to keep the goat herd in order, it was sometimes necessary to castrate the males. I watched in horror as the villagers did this.

The men first held the goat chest up and spread its rear legs. William then threaded the dangling testicles through a bow like instrument stretching them away from the body. With a wooden club he smashed the veins at the base. The poor goat cried out in agonizing pain, its head thrown back. I could hardly watch let alone take photos. But William had about as much pity for the animal as an American does for a cooked steak. He continued to strike away like a blacksmith at the anvil, and once satisfied that the veins were completely destroyed, he let the goat go. Blood would no longer pass to the testicles the man told me. I watched as the animal hobbled away. The plump sack between its thighs would now shrivel up and become useless. Poor goat, indeed. 

In the evening the temperature was pleasant and everyone slept outside. I lay on a cow hide, a mosquito net overhead. They'd hung the net from a tree and I could see the stars twinkling between the branches. While the moon was out its glow blocked the Milky Way from shinning through. But some hours later I woke from my sleep and the moon had set. I forced myself to get up and take photos. After that I couldn't fall back asleep for the life of me. The others didn't wake until dawn. The women quickly went about preparing chai for breakfast. After we drank our cups, everyone readied themselves for the day's tasks. Some needed to get water and others were responsible for tending to the herds. But before the villagers scattered, I asked to take a picture together. They were already dressed up in their traditional clothing. As for me, a woman brought out a colorful robe called a kanga. Then I set my camera timer. I took several photos and promised to print hem one later which I did in Kiserian.
Afternoon Nap
Herd Animals
Night Shot
Manyatta and Family
Second Safari

When I'd first arrived in East Africa I had it in mind to do a safari. First chance I had I visited a game park in Uganda. Yet Queen Elizabeth National Park didn't leave me quite satisfied. So in Kenya I decided to go on a second safari. This one was at Maasai Mara National Reserve. Gati and I departed from Nairobi in a tour bus and our fellow passengers were a Spaniard, a young American woman, and three UN peacekeepers on holiday from South Sudan. The bus headed south, and after a long drive we arrived at the park for our first game drive. It was Easter weekend and many people were entering alongside us. The tour vehicles fanned out, and on once a driver spotted a group of lions, he relayed the information to the other drivers who then raced to the same spot. A mother lion slept in a tree while her cubs played at the base. I counted 40 safari vans in a semicircle, drivers jockeying for position while their passengers fired off their cameras. The lions didn't seem to care that we were there. Still, the situation seemed absurd. The lions were wild and free, but with all the people nearby we might as well have been in a zoo.

The second day was better. After staying the night at a lodge, we had from morning to late afternoon for a game drive. Maasai Mara, as expansive as it was, had many places for the vehicles to explore, so aside from by entrance, we were mostly alone. The yellow savanna ran flush to distant hills with some thickets and trees here and there. That morning we saw a pride of lions that were fending off a kill from a band of hyenas. Or it could have been the other way around. In any event I saw a hyena make off with an antelope's head and bloody spine. I'd heard that hyenas could eat and digest any animal part, and in this respect they were the "cleaners" of the savanna ecosystem. As we continue on we saw plenty more animals--wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, bucks, water buffaloes, gazelles and more. Then we went to the Mara River, right near the border with Tanzania. In the water were countless hippos. We stopped to admire the scenery and have lunch. But we were not alone. Some monkeys ventured near our spot and stole what items they could from our packed meals. The American girl lost both a banana and sandwich to the dastardly thieves. Brilliantly colored lizards also approached us. I could see it in their eyes and erratic head bobbing that they expecting a hand out. I didn't disappoint them.

It took a while until we saw a cheetah. The cat sat resting beneath a tree and we pulled over to within 5m of it. I think the park rules were to maintain at least 20m from the wild animals, but the drivers never did this. Later in the day we left the park. Some of our group went to see a Maasai Village. It cost $10 and was obviously touristy. I took a pass, instead opting to photograph the sunset. The sky had remained clear all day, and as the sun sank, blue turned to a pastel shade of orange. At first I was content to take shots with trees in the foreground. Then I saw wildebeests playing in the distance. I rushed forward to get better photos. It was rather stupid of me. I went right into the park and could have easily bumped into a water buffalo. Gati and the Spaniard wisely chose to stay behind. But the effort at least scored me some nice photos. The wildebeests were very agreeable. They stood out as black silhouettes on a bright canvas of fire and clouds.

Our safari also included some nightly get-togethers. At the lodge we enjoyed a buffet for dinner which included meat. Tourists had come from all over but I stuck with the people in our safari group. After eating we sat by a campfire and talked. The Spaniard was a bit odd. He had a forceful personality and was determined to get his value's worth on the $330 three day trip. So yes, it was an expensive safari, more than most the plane tickets I'd bought while traveling. As for the UN workers they didn't complain. They'd originally come from India and were happy to have the opportunity to explore Africa. Plus, their UN status made it cheaper for them to visit the park. The American girl also got in for less because she was studying in Kenya and had local residency. Our group amounted to a good mix of people. We enjoyed beer followed by a few shots of whiskey. At our feet the fire crackled and spat up embers. Sitting there, I recalled that according to one Jewish saying fire is one of the four things a person can stare at indefinitely. The others are water in motion, a person working, and lastly, a beautiful woman in the nude. The group got a kick out of that.
Lining Up to Get In
Water Buffalo
Maasai Shield Souvenirs
Lion Cubs
Hyenas and Carcass
Lone Elephant
Nighttime Fire
Warning Sign
Masai and Cactus
At Sunset
Tour Group
Coastal Run

The second largest city in Kenya is Mombasa. It also happens to be the largest port in East Africa. Centuries ago the island was a major settlement of traders. Adept sailors took ivory, beads, gems and gold from Africa and exchanged them for Chinese goods thousands of miles away in Malacca, Malaysia. Later the Portuguese wrested away control of the lucrative port, only to have it fall into Arab hands, before lastly becoming part of a British colony in the 19th century. The city's fascinating history is on full display at the Jesus Fort in the old city. The fort was built by the Portuguese but after the Arabs took it by siege it became their headquarters. Gati and I toured the ruins once we arrived in the city. The heat and humidity in the area delivered a stifling one-two combination. It was not the best time to sight see. We managed to make it out of the fort and explored the streets in the old city. Everything had a distinctive Arab touch making it seem we were in a North African town. But Arabic was not so commonly spoken. The locals instead used Swahili. Originally a trade pidgin based on Arabic and Bantu, it grew to become a lingua franca in East Africa. Swahili is not so difficult for Westerners to learn because of its simple structure. Even so I made zero effort to speak anything other than "Hello" and "Thank you."

North of Mombasa was a village called Shanzu. That was where we stayed with a CS host named Hebron. He worked as a preacher and lived with his wife and two children. Friendly and hospitable as he was, staying with Hebron proved difficult due to the stuffy heat in his apartment. The next day Gati and I needed to cool off in the ocean. We went to a place called Pirate's Beach. Pushy touts set on us as soon as we arrived, but we were able to escape them and enjoyed some peaceful time alone in the shallow, warm water. A lot of expats lived in the fancy villas along the shore. Most were German retirees. The white haired men had no shame about paying for the services of local prostitutes a third their age. I even saw some foreign women with a young boy toy. The next day we spent the morning at a different spot, a school for small children. Knowing that I was a teacher, Hebron had asked me to volunteer. So I went in and taught two classes. Both ended in disaster. The kids' had limited English and the tasks I asked of them were too complicated. On the way out Gati and I gave them sweets to at least finish the visit on a high note.

Continuing north, we ventured to the coastal town of Kilifi.  Our CS host, who had a lovely home, went by the name of Jacky. She lived with her Colombian boyfriend. Not too far from their place was a beach with white sand and few people. Gati and I had a swim in the water. Then for dinner, Jacky prepared Arabic pilaf and a side of mango salsa. Two other couch surfers from America were staying at the home as well. We sat outside to enjoy the food. For the next two days Gati and I did not do much. The heat was simply too much for us to want to go outdoors. So we largely relaxed in the house. However, we did also make a side trip north to Malindi to buy bus tickets for our next destination. The town was once a popular Italian vacation spot with some pizzerias and gelato shops still lining the waterfront. The old part of town by contrast was run mostly by Muslim locals. As in Mombasa there was a mix of blacks, local Arabs, Somalis, and the women dressed in colorful yet conservative clothing. A shame Muslim women don't like to be photographed.
Going Down
Coral Fort
Old Architecture
Islamic Mosque
Mombassa Old Town

Snack Vendor
Kilifi House
Jacky and Cat

One of the nuisances of travel is the lack of common conveniences. It’s not like being at home. Why back in America the cities had modern 24-hour supermarkets that sold everything from cinnamon Poptarts to plump nectarines. The prices tended to be quite reasonable as well. How easy it was then. I could do my shopping in one location and walk away worry free. But this was not the norm in many other countries. Supermarkets, if you could even call them that, were small and lacking in variety. They might not even sell something as simple as fresh milk. And if you’re expecting imported goods, forget about it. Perhaps one place may carry something. But then you’ll have to go elsewhere to find another. It can be frustrating, especially when on the road in an unfamiliar town.

Of course, some cities do have proper supermarkets. I saw Carrefour in Amman, and in Kuala Lumpur there was TopValue. But these were not local chains. They belonged to foreign corporations that were eager to suck money out of the developing world. In East Africa it was different. The countries had their own regional supermarket called Nakumatt. The logo was that of an elephant and in front of every location stood a bronze statue of a two tusked specimen. Gati and I had thought the supermarket’s name might mean elephant in Swahili. We were mistaken. It was an abbreviation of Nakuru Mattress, Nakuru being a city in Kenya. I suppose the chain had once specialized in selling mattresses as well. Some locations still sold them along with other department store stuff. So in a way Nakumatt was like the Walmart Supercenter of Africa.

But let’s not get drawn away from the food. Nakumatt had aisle after aisle of glorious products. They even boasted their own brand of confectioneries and ice cream. I bought the latter and found the taste adequate for the price. Regrettably, I failed to try the Nakumatt Blue Label potato chips. To be honest I was more interested in the supermarket’s selection of fruits. I could have Western style pears and apples. They were absolutely scrumptious. And if I did want junk food, there were all the foreign brands too. I gazed at the variety a bit taken back by the sugary treats. To think how I’d once indulged my sweet tooth with reckless abandon while living in America. Since leaving the country I’d slowly weaned myself off of sugar loaded crap and changed my diet for the better. On the road though it was difficult to resist the occasional cold soda or ice cream.
Elephant and Supermarket
Island Life

Towards the northern coast, near Somalia, we journeyed from Malindi to Lamu Island. It took 7 hours to cover the 200km distance. A military jeep accompanied us during the last part of the journey and we became a type of convoy--three buses with an armed escort at the front. The soldiers were needed to deter local bandits. There were checkpoints as well. Each time we shuffled off the bus, lined up, and showed our IDs to waiting soldiers. Thanks to the heavy security our convoy made it to the coast without incident. From there Gati and I rode a ferry to the island. A predominately Muslim town, Lamu sat tight against the Indian Ocean where dozens of boats teetered and bobbed in the shallows. Most were wooden dhows easily identifiable by their angled masts. And from the waterfront blocky buildings eased back into the island’s vegetation. The structures had a typical North African design with lovely courtyards hidden inside. Narrow alleys ran between them and there were no cars or motorcycles to be seen. The only mode of transport in Lamu was the donkey.

Gati and I walked the alleys and tried the local restaurants around town. I ordered Swahili curry for one meal. Gati had barracuda stewed in a type of coconut sauce. We also visited Shela, a smaller town on the south side of the island. Shela had a long sandy beach that faced west. We stayed until sunset then caught a ride back to Lamu on a dhow. The two Americans from Kilifi were also on the island at the same time and we spent some more time together. One evening we enjoyed a beer on a rooftop bar. What I liked about Lamu was its laid back atmosphere. The people didn't seem to be in a hurry, and they were friendly, often making conversation for the simple sake of conversation. During one such chat a man told me thievery was not a problem on the island. Lamu certainly did feel safe. But the few times Gati went out alone men harassed her with unwanted advances. Even young boys were saying things like, "hey beautiful."
In the waters surrounding Lamu were other little islands. We booked a dhow tour to visit Manda Toto. On the way we stopped to go in the water with mask and snorkel. Most the corals we saw had died and few fish swam in the area. The boat captain still caught two yellow snappers for lunch. While he cooked them Gati and I walked the beach on Manda Toto. The island had no buildings. It was just a low patch of green surrounded by warm turquoise sea. In spite of using sunscreen Gati became burnt. She covered up when we returned to the boat. Our food was ready too, fish served with coconut rice, tamarind curry and fresh fruit. There was also some grilled squid. The other passenger on our tour was an older guy from South Africa. We all dug in and stuffed ourselves. After that it was time to go. The ride back to Lamu took us through mangrove forest. Well, both ways we’d passed mangrove, but the second time around I closely admired the strange trees. With the tide being low, their roots stood above the water, and behind them towered the occasional Baobab tree.  For your information baobabs have the thickest trunks of any tree. But the ones I saw in Kenya were not old enough to reach an extraordinary size..

Soccer at School
Beachy Sunset
Dhow Boat
Inner Garden
In the Mangrove
At the Hotel
Lamu Donkeys

While in Kenya I was enchanted by the country's varied terrain and people. It ended up being my favorite place in Africa. But time does fly and after a month not only did I have to board a plane to leave, I was also saying goodbye to Gati. To prepare for a new NGO posting she needed to return to Europe. And just like that I was alone again. An odd sensation overcame me. I'd written before that travel is like a partnership. Both people play their part in making the decisions. With Gati I'd taken the lead role. So on the one hand I felt lonely with her gone, but on the other I was free to move forward in my own way. I scratched at my unshaven neck and peered towards the northern horizon. In that direction one last African country remained for me to visit.
Beach Play