Adventures in Africa

Chapter 7 - Eating Giraffes in Nairobi and Looking For a Cheetah in Masai Mara

We have a lift to Nairobi with an Israeli organized safari group. We have 2 recommendations about places to sleep in Nairobi. Mark, the Australian whom we met in lake Naivasha recommends hotel Dolat (good value, bad neighborhood). We have another recommendation from Israel about Heron court hotel - a "real" hotel, with a swimming pool, a telephone inside the room and an elevator (which didn't work, though), whose only drawback is the attached bar which serves sex. We decide to start with Dolat. We don't know what happened to Mark. Yes, the hotel is clean, but the feeling is like being inside jail in a very bad neighborhood. The thieves live happily outside and you have to stay behind bars. We had enough in Nyahururu and are ready to pay double for our peace of mind, so we go to check our second option. Heron court hotel is situated in a good neighborhood, and the only risk there is AIDS. In the bar there is a very clear social ladder: The boys are white expatriates and the girls, who are the majority, are black hookers. The hotels' price list goes from one month rent through one week and one night to six hours room rate! That night we had to choose between the thieves and the hookers and we voted for the later, at least they are not violent...

As I was with Tali I was immune to the dangers of the bar, and we set down to eat something. Very soon we recognized the white pimp (with a disgusting moustache) who runs the house. He's the one who all the hookers flatter and touch (including intimate parts...). If that is not convincing enough, why does he say to Jacqueline that tomorrow is pay day?

We leave the camera, our documents, and money in the hotel's safe. The only one who has the keys is the (Asian) manager. He gives you a receipt only after he checks what you give him. All of it! He had a thorough look at the camera, at the passports, and above all counted the money, cash, and traveler checks, while whistling to himself joyfully. The first thought which ran into my mind was that he resembles the rich man in the book "The little prince" of St. Exupery, who counted all day long the stars of the universe, and declared them to be his.

Nairobi's downtown, under the special security forces which came because of the bombs, is discovered to be quite nice and safe. We enjoy the good food (La Trattoria Italian restaurant!) and the good cinemas. We also make all kinds of arrangements: Buy anti malaria medicaments, issue a visa to Tanzania and look for a company to go with to a 3 days safari in Masai Mara reserve, the premium national park of Kenya.

Reserving a safari tour is simple and hard at the same time. Simple - because while walking in the streets of downtown Nairobi, you are offered by many people, who introduce themselves as sells agents, these tours. Hard - because the market is ruled by few big companies who have fixed price policy of 50$ per day. That is not too bad for a normal tourist, because only the entrance fee is 20$ per day. Students get 50% reduction for the entrance fee, but the companies ask from students 45$, and not 40$ as one can expect. I ask in many agencies why they don't give all of the reduction to the students, but they all refuse to answer. One agency that we prefer to go with is called "Come to Africa". They have a brand new camp which is located inside the reserve. What is even better is that their luxurious lodge is located a walking distance from the camp. Thus one can pass the night in the luxurious lodge's pub, watching videos while drinking cold drinks. I talk with Peter, their head sells manager. He is a real marketing shark, but still he insists on the 50$ per day. He tells us that if we want to go with a good company like "Come to Africa" we must pay this price. Only the low level companies will go down to 45$. You should understand that 50$ in Africa is a real fortune. A soldier or a teacher, either of which is a good profession to have, earns about 100$ per month!

To tell you the truth, I get a bit pissed off. It's really hard to break the market here. What also irritates me is that there are no special prices for Israelis, like it is common in the Far East (India and Nepal) or in South America (Peru). All the time, during the walk in the streets of downtown Nairobi, people offer safari tours. If earlier in the day we didn't pay to them much attention, we start to do so now. Maybe they know a trick how to bypass the monopoly. After all, they get around 3$ commission per day for the tourists they bring, so they are highly motivated to satisfy their customers. We start to tell these people that we want only for 45$ per day and only with "Come to Africa". After some time we find somebody who says it shouldn't be a problem. He brings us to another agent who works with Come to Africa and he agrees. In the following morning we arrive to the office of Come to Africa ready for the Safari. The surprised look of Peter at our sight is worth all the bother we had...

The Masai Mara National Reserve covers some 1,672 sq. km at between 1,500 and 2,100m above sea level. It is an extension of Tanzania∆s Serengeti National Park. It is the most popular of Kenya∆s parks, with good reason. Almost every species of animal you can think of in relation to East Africa live on the well-watered plains in this remote part of the country. One of the most memorable and spectacular sites is the migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra as they move from the Serengeti Plains in Jan on their way north-wards arriving in the Masai Mara by about Jul-Aug as the dry weather sets in.

A buffalo.

A zebra.

We arrive to the reserve in the afternoon, after having a buffet lunch in a nice restaurant on the way. We have a game drive on our way inside the reserve to the camp. A game drive means to watch the game (i.e. animal) while standing in the vehicle which has an open roof. It's the best way to see animals in big reserves, but is surprisingly tiring. The camp is quite nice, consisting of new tents inside which there are beds. There is electricity, hot showers and flushing toilets. In the evening we get an adequate supper and watch a traditional folk show of the Masai people.

The Masai have a reputation as fierce and proud warriors. Their custom is a striking red blanket with which they cover their body. They comprise 2% of Kenya's people. Their customs and practices were developed to reflect their nomadic lifestyle and many are still practiced today, though change is beginning to be accepted. The basic Masai diet, for instance, is fresh and curdled milk. Blood tapped from the jugular vein of cattle is mixed with cattle urine and this provides a powerful stimulant. Cattle are rarely killed for meat as they represent the owner's wealth. The Masai people don't accept modern medicine. They refuse to get injections and thus are not immunize against common diseases like hepatitis and polio. A Masai woman does a strong diet during her pregnancy and wears a tight belt around the stomach, since it is less dangerous to give birth to a 1.5-2 kg embryo. Before a Masai boy can marry he has to pass the maturation ceremony. He puts white color on his face and must hunt one of the big 5 (Elephant, Black Rhino, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard) by himself. Nowadays some of the Masai are already spoiled by the tourists. They ask money for anything - for taking pictures (sometime the price is per picture!), for visiting their villages etc.

Before a Masai boy can marry he has to pass the maturation ceremony which includes putting white color on the face.

Next day is a full day game drive. The animals are very nice (see pictures!), the food much less (bread and jam for breakfast, for lunch same stuff mixed with hundreds of ants...). We see lions for several times. In fact it's amazingly easy: you just have to look for a gathering of vehicles - surely they are watching some lions... What we don't see today and are willing to see is a Cheetah.

We see lions for several times.

The following (and last) day is declared by us as "Cheetah day". We go where a Cheetah was seen and make rounds for almost an hour till we find it. As there are no other cars around we can have a very close look at it. Maybe even too close...

We can have a very close look at the cheetah. Maybe even too close...

Back in Nairo, maybe because we have seen so much game during the last 3 days, and certainly because of the lousy food we have had, we go to eat in the Carnivore restaurant. It is an "Eat as much as you can" type of restaurant where they serve all kinds of meat: beef, goat, chicken, turkey, lamb, pork and game meat. They have a special permit to hunt limited quantities of game, and every evening they serve 3 different kinds. You can look at the menu in the photo to see what we had... We left the restaurant only when our bellies menaced to explode, and went to our taxi who was waiting for us.

You can look at the menu in the photo to see what we had...

It took us some time to learn how to bargain with the taxi drivers. As they don't have enough work, they want to get as much as possible from you (you will probably be their only customer of the day). Instead of trying to lower the one way price, which is very hard, you should agree to their price promptly, take advantage of their surprise, and say - "but for the return journey". They protest a bit, you add 20% to the price and it's set...

Tomorrow we go to Tanzania, we have two more mountains to climb in our plan - Mt. Meru and Ol Doinyo Lengai.

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Last modified: Sat Jun 12th 19:05:00 IST 1999