Friday, September 13, 2013

            Off the Dime and into East Africa: Aug-Sep 2013

After a move and the summer home, I took off for East Africa and the wildlife of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in August-September 2013. I was   with my sometime travel companion, Suzanne,on an Exodus tour, one of my favorite British budget travel groups.  The group was full up, eighteen of us, mostly Brits with a  smattering of others, eg: Irish, Americans and a Canadian.

After a missed connecting flight and resultant rescheduling, I still arrived in Nairobi several days early. A large circus tent substituted for the International Terminal, which had burned to ground a week or so prior. Interesting structure, perhaps better than the original building. 
I wasn’t   terribly impressed with Nairobi, per se.  Through traffic and thick  carbon monoxide, walked down to the city center -  I felt overwhelmed with the crowding.  Fortunately, got out of immediate chaos the second day to the outskirts where Suzanne and I spent time  with  Michael and Marionetta Asher - I have traveled several times with Michael, a writer and explorer, who  is  planning  a Chad camel trek in January - I’ll be there! They live near the Giraffe Center  -  away from the hurly-burly of civilization. 

The final pre tour day was spent on an arranged City tour and drive into the Nairobi National Park.  The  City tour included  the American Embassy Memorial Garden, the site destroyed by bombing in 1998. The Park gave us a preview of what we could expect in the tour. We lasted half way through the Bombas performances - a series of traditional  dances and songs - fascinating but tedious.

First stop on the tour was Lake Naivasha where we camped lakeside and visited Elsamere, Joy Adamson’s home, now a conservation center.  The resident monkeys introduced us to local wildlife. From there we headed into the Masai Mara, packed with wildlife.  I was most taken by the lions, who sprawled out under trees and in roadways - totally in command.  Saw a Cheetah and herds of Zebras, among others..

The tour crossed Kenya, into Uganda and finishing in Rwanda.  For me, the exciting time was  boating up the White Nile and Lake Victoria.  Seeing the Africa of Burton, Livingston and Spekes.  The landscape is awesome - all  inspiring.    The three countries have enough sense to leave well enough alone - the natural state being the draw for visitors.  

I missed out on the gorillas of Dian Fossey.  I had mixed feelings about viewing them, feeling as did Fossey, they should not be on show.  Yet, the moneys obtained from tourists  sustain and protect them from poachers.  A reoccurance of UTI sapped any strength I might have had for the climb into   Parc National des Volcans, so the decision was made for me.

At Kiglii, some of us spent the morning at the Kigali Memorial Center which honored those killed in the genocide.  One could not help but be moved by the extensive presentation.  

Security was a big thing, particularly in Kenya.  Purse and body checks before entering grocery stores.   

We traveled mostly by Safari bus, excepting two days in 4x4s in the Masai.   Meals were prepared by the crew: - and they were good.  A tour leader, cook, driver and general dog-body were responsible for the lot of us. 

Accommodations ranged from two person tents to covered tent sites to several hotel stays.  In most places, hot water and showers were provided.    The facilities   at Lake Bunyonyi were exceptional - the setting overlooking the lake was awesome. 

Cost for the sixteen days, inclusive of meals:  $3420.  Well worth it. 

Coincidentally, the current NY Times Magazine had an article on Kagame of Rwanda, which I read when I returned.  Very interesting in view of my several days in the country.