Kenya: Journey to Nairobi

I must confess whenever the topic of Africa comes up, scenes of stereotypical slums, misery, abject poverty, and suffering enter my mind, a hopeless place. Devoid of …..err… hope?

For that, I blame hollywood.

So when the assignment to Africa came up, I was dreading the worse. To top it off, it wasn’t a short assignment like 1 to 2 weeks, it would be 5 weeks. More than one month of my life would be spent there, I have heard of the horror stories from my other co-workers who mentioned horrible infrastructures, no clean water, terrible sanitation and generally not safe.

The odd thing though, while I was thinking of all the worse case scenarios, my co-worker Stella was actually excited by the prospect of going there! She is what people would call a globetrotter. She has travelled from New Zealand to the outskirts of Vietnam. From the end of Tokyo Bay to the busy city of Seoul. She’s today’s modern age single girl who loves to travel. Whether with friends or going it alone, she has plans to go to India in November.

Personally, I think she’s just crazy……. But I digress, let us continue with the story of Kenya. The flight

The date was 20th August, 8am, KLIA. We had opt for the 10am flight instead of the 2am because of the shorter transit time of 2 hours versus 6 hours at Dubai. This would be my 4th time traveling on Emirates and I was racking up the points, I hope to score a business class seat by the end of this trip. As usual, I packed for more than 2 month’s stay even though it was slated to be only a 5 week assignment just because I like to be prepared and I’m paranoid prick. The flight to Dubai was once again packed to the brim. Fortunately this time I was prepared with a noise cancellation headset by Seinheiser and worth every penny I paid for. Coupled this along with an ipad full of anime series I’ve have been meaning to catch up on, 7 hours flew time quickly.

At Dubai airport with Stella

Soon after a short 2 hours transit, it was time for our flight from Dubai to Nairobi and after 5 hours later, we were finally in Nairobi. Quickly going past immigration, we found our taxi waiting for us that took us to the Nairobi Safari club (said to be a 5 start hotel). By the time we reached there, it was 9pm and we were expected, tired to our bones from the long flight.

The 5 start hotel, that wasn’t

Thinking the hotel was really 5 star, we were shocked to find that a lot of things were either not working or of poor quality. For my room it was

  1. Air-cond wasn’t working.
  2. The shower wasn’t working.
  3. The safety deposit box wasn’t working.
  4. Not all the lights were working.
  5. Not all the power sockets were working

The bedroom. You may not see it but it was very dark and gloomy.

The living room.

The non-working safe

The toilet with the non-working shower and hot water…….

For Stella, it wasn’t as bad:

  1. Her safety deposit box was totaled, the front electronic panel had been completely ripped off
  2. Her air-cond wasn’t working either.

And when we asked laundry to lend us irons so we could iron out our clothes, the one they sent me didn’t work while Stella’s did but the one thing that was rather shocking, was that they didn’t come with ironing boards. Instead we had to use a towel draped over one of the many desk in our room as a make shift. To say I was disappointed with the room (They were charging USD165 per night) was an understatement, I was raving stark mad.

I went down to the hotel reception and here is the exchange.

To the concierge at the counter,” Hi, is this a 5 star hotel?” I asked.

With a smile on his face, “Yes it is sir.” He replied.

“Then why is it like a 2 star roach motel?!” I blasted then.

The guy was obviously, taken back by the comment as I listed down all the problems with the bloody rooms.

He apologized for the problems but I asked that our rooms be changed. But that was not possible because it was late, they didn’t have any rooms available until tomorrow and they would meanwhile send someone to look at the problems. So as quickly, as I had tore them a new a asshole, they sent someone to look at the list of problems. Sadly they weren’t able to fix the air-cond because it seemed to affect every fucking room in the whole god damn hotel as we found our later the next night in a different room and repeated calls to them fell on deaf ears because every time they sent someone up, the guy would say he will try to fix it from the “control room” which I think is code word for “bullshit central”.

Luckily, Kenya weather was rather cooling so I opened all the windows (which cannot be lock anyway) although this brought it’s own problem with mosquitos but luckily I came prepared with those electronic bug repellent things you can find in Malaysia stores. Anyway, once we were settled into our rooms, we tried to get a good night’s sleep (Kenya is 6 hours behind Malaysia time). We had breakfast and quickly made our way to the client’s site which was only 8 minutes walk (one of the main reason why the hotel was chosen although in retrospect we should have stayed at Hilton or Stanley and  take taxi instead.).

At client site

To make a long story short, we met the client and had some initially problems with absents of the very system we were supposed to install on. It hadn’t been ordered yet but the client suggest to use virtual machines, our liaison meanwhile tried to expunge onto us the benefits of virtual machines. I don’t mind using virtual machines to install our software but the main problem here is would the certification team allow you to use it?

Regardless, we followed on through with their idea for now at least until the real machines had arrived. The client also had some last minute changes they wanted made to the project details and expected us to carry them out to the letter. This is where a good project manager and an even greater project leader can save your butt from hell. Without giving much detail because I don’t want to give out who the client was, we managed to work out a middle ground or a compromise plan until more details of the plan could be worked out. That I will leave to the managers between our companies and theirs to work out, meanwhile we had a job to do until then.

Massai Mara Day 1:25th August 2012

At this time, we thought it was best that we should enjoy the weekend by going on a Safari to Massai Mara for a 2 days and 1 night stay. This is where she shone like star, the way she arranged and handled everything was like a pro. All I did was just say yes and handed over my share of the money. She researched to death on the tours and etc before our arrival and already had offers lined up by Wednesday.

LIke I said, like a star.

By Friday we paid the deposit and the jeep would came to pick us up 6am Saturday. Our driver was nice man by the name of Kim Musa. Soon we were off.

Since it was only one night, I only brought a change of clothes and camera gear. I left all my gadgets in the hotel’s “safe”. I use the word “safe” relatively speaking.

Our driver Kim Musa.

Off we went to Massai Mara

The journey took about 6 hours only because it seems that the jeep has a speed limiter of 60 kmph.

Stopping for gas.

To say we were excited was putting it lightly, we were ecstatic! Both of us never imagined that we would have the chance to travel to Africa on an assignment. If you had told me that I would get to travel to such locations for work 2 years ago, I would have known you would be lying! But then, the last few years have been pretty rotten and nothing had been going my way since I left university.

Entering rift valley.

We stopped along the way to take some pictures while taking in the nice cold freezing air!!!

After that, we continued down into the valley

A donkey!

At about 9am, we reached a rest stop because it would be the last possible stop before continuing the final part of our journey to Massai Mara. The rest stop was a nice little place and as suspected, was one BIG tourist trap. With that done, it was time to continue with our journey. It should be mentioned that as we went further and further, the road got worse after this point, til there wasn’t any road at all and traveling through without a 4 wheel drive vehicle would be futile. Also  taking photographs would not be possible  because I spent most of my time holding on so I wouldn’t get hurt from the jeep rocking around. By the time we arrived in Massai Mara, we were very tired and beat so we first checked into the hotel for a rest before our first game tour at 2pm. We then had a buffet lunch at the hotel’s restaurant. Everything was delicious, the only thing that was pricey were drinks, it had to be ordered off the menu. I suspect this is where they earned the most from the guest.

The reception hall.

We were then shown to our room.

We quickly dropped off our bags and walked around checking out the hotel

They even had their own “Massai village” AKA tourist trap.

After the meal, we then had a good rest back at our room. The journey had been very tiring and we overslept a bit til 2:30pm, quickly getting our gear together, we made our way to parking where Kim was already waiting for us and off we went for our first game drive.   It’s very different when you see a wild animal in real versus what you see on TV. There something about that being there, you acknowledge the creature’s existence and also not hearing someone narrating about the animal’s story like a NatGeo documentary was rather an odd experience. The only thing that you hear are the sounds of the animal or the wind blowing through the Savannah plains. Here in the Massai Mara, you see evolution’s greatest work in action, “Survival of the fittest”. I have finally come to understand why such natural beauty should be protected because no technology in this world could record what I saw and felt while I was there and reply later for the same experience. The feeling would have been cheapen.

We were told that the wildebeest follows the Zebra because it’s a better navigator? Not sure how accurate is that though.

After a while it started to get boring with just seeing Zebra and Wildebeest but then Kim got word that lions had been spotted nearby and we quickly drop to where they were.

Sadly, they turned out to be young lions and nothing like the beast seen on TVs, they had just eaten their latest kill and were lazying around.

Then we got word that a leopard had been spotted (pardon the pun). According to Kim, it could be days before another one would be seen.

Unfortunately, just as we got wind of it, so did everyone else. The poor creature had been corralled into a huge patch of bushes and tree. Every other tour/safari were also there surrounding it, hoping to catch a glimpse of the leopard.

Then our driver to move out of the circle creating an opening, the leopard sprang into action and run out of the bushes, past the opening we had made! It was amazing! It had been so fast! By the time I had raised my camera to my eye, the leopard was already halfway across the Savannah.

Here is the last shot I took before it literally dashed out like a lightning! No one even noticed the leopard was no longer hiding in the bushes when I shouted to Stella, the leopard was running behind our jeep. Only then did everyone turned around to see the leopard running off into the Savannah bushes.
Other buses/safaris gave chase but it was obvious the leopard was long gone. I was told that it would come back later because it had left it’s kill in the bushes. So some people continue to wait there, hoping for it’s return.
Meanwhile, we decided to continue rather than wait.

Then we came along the same pair of lions from before. You can see the many buses and jeep also following them. I wonder, by following them, do we make it harder for them to hunt since we sort of blow their hiding place to the other animals?

“Do you mind? I’m trying to hunt here!”

Things got a little boring then so I trained my camera on the other people and see what they were using. I thought how would we feel if someone were photographing us while photographing other animals. I imagine someone doing a documentary.
“Here we have the rich prick who can afford lenses 8 times the price of my car. It’s obvious the guy is trying to be NatGeo with this gear, he was the only one in the jeep and the rest of the seat had been taken up by giant lens CASES! I took a peek and was shock to see so many, all obviously very well taken care of.”

“Meanwhile, here we have the average female with a 70-300mm on a D7000.” hahahahah, I laughed to myself pretending to narrate in my best impression of NatGeo.

Next we encountered a herd of elephants. Elephant herds are lead by a single Matriarch. Predominantly all members of a herd are female except for young elephants which consist male and female at least until the male is old enough to leave the herd. All Male elephants are solitary creatures once adults.

Another interesting fact, you can tell whether an elephant is right side or left side by the left of their tusk. This one is right “handed” because it’s tusk are much shorter due to tear and wear.

Next here we have a family of Giraffes.

But soon it was getting darker and it had started to rain. So it was time to call it a day and head back to the hotel.

We very lucky that day as we had managed to see many of the big game animals with the exception of Rhino. At about 6pm we returned to the hotel for dinner and a good night’s rest.

The hotel fireplace. With the hotel breeze flowing into the hotel, the heat from the fireplace felt wonderful.

Day 2: 26th August 2012

I must confess, the room while lacking many amenities such as TV or even a fan but it was a billion times better than the room we had waiting for us back in Nairobi. It utilized the natural cooling air of Massai Mara to great effort resulting a wonderful night’s sleep. After a shower and breakfast though at 8am, we quickly checked out of the hotel for our final game drive before the long drive back to Nairobi.

The morning started off rather low key with nothing new to see that we hadn’t seen already yesterday.

A young pup of a jackel.

We then came across what was obviously freshly killed prey but the predator was no where to be seen. So we waited, hoping it would return to feast on it’s kill.
It was obvious after a while that it wouldn’t be returning as the jackals and vulture were making their move on it.

So we moved on.

At 10am, Kim got some information where a cheetah had been spotted! Although it would take us 45 minutes to get there but the game was on!! But like yesterday’s leopard, by the time we got there, it too was surrounding.

Although this one wasn’t in any mood to go running around as it was content with just rolling around in the grass.

Till it decided to take a peek of the surrounding area.

Another thing one should bring on a game drive even though you’re in a jeep, bring sunblock. As I would later find out. my skin started to flake when we got back to Nairobi.

Then it went back to rolling in the grass….

So we continued on…..

Then we came across a pack of lionesses

But soon it was time to begin the long drive back to Nairobi and like the migrating heard of wildebeest, we made our way out of Massai Mara under the 2pm scorching sun. Else we wouldn’t make it back to Nairobi in time.

The long drive was rather uneventful and was punctuated by the fact it started to rain a short time later. We did later stop to have a late lunch where we asked about the lives of people in Massai Mara and such. And off we went, for the long 6 hours drives back. By the time we reached Nairobi, we were very tired and only want to sleep.

This was the only free weekend we had to ourselves as subsequent weekends required that we went to the client site to work as the load of work was more than we had expected. Well at least, we didn’t have to stay all day at work for the weekend, so we did go around Nairobi but more on those later, I have yet to developed the slides. Once they have been developed, I’ll scan them and put them up.

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One thought on “Kenya: Journey to Nairobi

  1. Pingback: 2012: The year in review……and we’re all still here alive. « dreaming Artemis

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