The Many Faces of Kenya (1 of 2) – Africa

Jambo everyone, from Kenya! ("hello" in Swahili).

I’ve learned a little Swahili during my 10 days here, including jambo, ahsante sana (thank you), hakuna matata ("no problem" from Lion King fame), habari ("how are you?") etc. Learning how to say "thank you", "please", "hello" and other basic courteous phrases when travelling is greatly appreciated by those whose country you visit, and it can take you a long way.

In spite of its poverty and above-average crime rate, Kenya is a very beautiful country, and I have had a tremendous time. Most of my time has been spent on safari, something I have always dreamed of doing. It has been better than imagined! There are numerous safari companies; I researched them on the Internet before coming to Kenya and chose Kairi Tours. They were excellent, made my stay very comfortable and stress-free. They picked me up at the airport when I arrived at 6 a.m., had my safari all arranged, hotels and lodges booked, meals arranged, a knowledgeable English-speaking guide/driver, etc.

Swahili is the dominant language in Kenya, but most people speak very decent English (because Kenya was colonized by England). In fact, I was impressed that most people in Kenya are trilingual because everyone speaks a mother-tongue or indigenous language (there are 42 tribes in Kenya). My safari group consisted of our Kenyan driver/guide Francis, two Spaniards, a graduate student from California who is doing an agricultural research project and living in Kenya for two months, and myself. The two Spaniards spoke very little English so I did a lot of translating for them.

The first game park we visited was Masai Mara – home of the annual wildebeest migration (where over one million wildebeest and tens of thousands of zebra and gazelle migrate from Tanzania to Kenya). They come to Kenya each year in the summer after the heavy spring rains to graze on the sweet grass. They return to Tanzania and the Serengeti in the fall.

In the summer Masai Mara has the most voluminous concentration of animals in the world, and for me it was miraculous to see them in their natural habitat. We drove in a van that had a roof that popped open three feet so we were able to stand up inside and take pictures and view the animals and landscape unobstructed. I was calling the van "the popemobile", as it reminded me of when the pope visits crowds and drives around standing and waving. It was a great thrill every time we saw an animal for the first time; we would stop and take pictures, watch for a while and then drive a few more kilometers and see an entirely different animal and do the same thing.

We were able to get very close to just about every type of animal. In fact, there was one time where if I would have opened up my window I could have pet a lion as it walked by.

The first day I saw tens of thousands of zebra and wildebeest, 10 lions, 10 cheetah, one leopard, 50 elephants, 50 giraffes, 300 buffalo, thousands of gazelles, many impalas, topi, elands, waterbucks, hyenas and jackals, 50 vultures, about 50 different species of birds and one very rare black rhinoceros, which is almost extinct due to poachers. China has been a market for rhino horns because they are used for medicinal purposes and considered to be an aphrodisiac. Before coming to Kenya I was curious if poaching was still a problem, but the only evidence I saw of it from talking to people and reading the newspaper each day was one article about 27 people who were arrested for illegally killing and selling warthog meat to butchers in southern Kenya.

The first safari day was incredible, and I took many pictures. I stayed in Keekorok Lodge the first night, and 50 feet from my room zebra, wildebeest and gazelle grazed. I watched them until it became too dark to see any longer.

Keekorok Lodge (as well as every other lodge I stayed in) was very comfortable – with hot showers, flush toilets, swimming pool, a lounge area with a roaring fireplace, gift shop, tremendous meals, videos at night on nature etc. Being a vegetarian I was a little concerned about what I would be able to eat but, I never had a problem and ate extremely well. Speaking of vegetarianism, I enjoyed being surrounded by millions of my fellow vegetarians – zebras, giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, buffalo, gazelles, hippos, rhinos etc.

The next few days in Masai Mara were filled with game drives, yet each day was different. Some highlights included sitting on the banks of the Mara River having lunch while watching hippos and crocodiles all around, and one hour watching a lion on a hunt, as it slowly and meticulously crept up on a herd of zebra grazing. The lion crept within 100 feet before the zebra saw her and then they took off. Dust flew everywhere as hundreds of zebra ran for their life at full speed. This particular hunt was unsuccessful for the lion, but there were other occasions where we drove up and witnessed lions eating a freshly killed zebra or wildebeest.

The lion is definitely the King of the Jungle and commands great attention from both animals (for reasons of survival) and people. It was easy to tell when a lion was in the vicinity, because you would see a cluster of vans parked or following close by, everyone inside zeroing in with their cameras, camcorders and binoculars.

Speaking of zebras, I was impressed with how well they got along with most animals. I often saw them grazing harmoniously with wildebeest, gazelles, giraffes, elephants, buffalo, etc. Another memorable moment in Masai Mara was when I was awoken by loud rustling at 5 a.m. and ran outside and shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know. I tried to remove his tusks to sell but they were too tight. My guide recommended I go to Alabama where the Tuscaloosa (some classic Groucho Marx humor).


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