Thursday, March 31, 2011

December 2010 Holiday Travel

I know…Christmas is long past, but I’m just getting to typing this blog (I will try to include pictures).  As you may remember, the school year here is year-round with month long breaks in April, August, and December.  So, we ended the term around Thanksgiving.  From December 4 – 11 we were in Nairobi for Peace Corps mid-service medical (we got teeth cleaned, etc…).  Then the fun started!  I came back to my site and went to do some short tuition (tutoring) with my students and then Zahara and Charlie came to stay for two whole days (!) one of which we used to go to “my beach”.  Sorry I didn’t take my camera to the beach.  There was a type of sandbar we could see from shore which seemed pretty far but I saw Charlie walking out there (he was the only one in the water at that point).  Mind you the beach near my site is fairly secluded which makes it wonderful!  Of course, I’m watching as he goes because I just have that habit of being concerned about “what if something happens to him while he’s out there” as if I could actually do something??  (I digress)  I see Charlie makes it to the sandbar and is walking as if he is walking on water (if you’ve seen a sandbar in the ocean you know what I mean) and then I see him, of all things, diving (like you dive into a pool).  After a bit, Charlie comes back and he says something like “You’ve got to come out to this pool that I found in the middle of the ocean” (okay, not his exact words since it was a while ago and I can’t remember).  So, of course, I say let’s go.  So, we walk down the beach and then out to the sand bar and sure enough there was this type of pool of water that was somehow between the sandbar and the shore but still “way out” in the waves.  You could stand on the edge of the sandbar and dive into this pool of water.  Very cool!  No pictures of sandbar.
On to the next leg of the trip.  Zahara leaves early on Saturday to go back to her site and Charlie and I left later that afternoon to stay with James and Kenya (and family) so that we could visit their church on Sunday and then head on to Mombasa on the way to western Kenya.  The stay at James & Kenya’s is always a joy because for me it’s like being “aunt becky” again.  Plus, Charlie is like a kid-magnet so worked out great (picture of Charlie, Abigail, and Lydia).  Of course we stayed for lunch (can’t pass up home cooked american!) and hung around a bit but had to leave to get to mombasa before dark.  On the way we hit a “traffic jam” of sorts and it was much after dark when we finally arrived…but now I know the way to the Lotus hotel (where Peace Corps always puts volunteers) so no worries.  The plan then is to spend the next two days in mombasa so that we can catch the train to nairobi on Tuesday evening.  We are allowed to take the train to travel at night to nairobi (we’re not supposed to travel by bus or other vehicle at night).  So, we are in mombasa trying to figure out if there is anything we can see.  There is a place called Haller Park which is a kind of animal sanctuary.  We decided to check it out on Monday.  It was kind of neat…not really a lot there but saw the big turtle and other animals (you can see pictures on flickr site).  Sorry this is not a great use of pictures here, but I’m no expert on posting the blog and don’t have the resources to spend the time to figure out how to make this easier to include pictures.  Anyway – it was a nice afternoon.   
On our way towards the exit, all of the sudden we see Abigail, Josiah, and Lydia walking towards us then shouting “Mama, it’s Rebecca and Charlie”.  They just happened to also come that day to see the hippo and alligator feeding.  Thus, we stayed longer and hung out with them for the rest of the afternoon….saw the alligator feeding (generally fun to hang out with kids when you’re at a park like that).  The next day we had to find something to do until time to go to the train at about 4pm.  

We heard from Josiah (9 year old) that there was an awesome water park in mombasa.  We put that thought out of our mind until we started to walk around “just looking” and then found the park.   Kenya told us the price was 800 shillings (about $10) but when we got there it had been increased to the holiday price of 1200 shillings.  Seems that most prices here are jacked up during december holiday!  We kept asking ourselves should we or should we not spend the money.  Maybe you can tell on the picture that those are actual waterslides….so, we decided we had to go.  It was definitely worth it to be covered in cool water for a couple of hours!!  So, that was very cool.  We finally go back to pick our luggage from the hotel and then off to the train.  The train is always kind of a neat trip….not luxurious but okay.   The train travels from Mombasa to Nairobi overnight.   

Arrive in Nairobi about 11am.  Our plan was to get into Nairobi and buy tickets to take the night train again from Nairobi to Kisumu (which is where we will meet Staci for Christmas).  Well, we didn’t think that the train would be overloaded….but, it was.  There were no tickets for Kisumu (only third class and the lady at the desk said, “I wouldn’t recommend third class”, and then immediately revised and said, “I mean, don’t take third class”).  We had to find a place to stay in Nairobi.  We had to contact Peace Corps and let them know that we were “stuck” in Nairobi for a night.  We went to this place Upperhill Camp which is like a backpackers place.  You can stay there very cheaply (less than $10) and it is clean, has showers, and good food.  You stay in a dorm-like room sleeping on bunk beds.  We were talking to the taxi driver (not Robert DeNiro) and he said he could take us to the “bus area” the next morning and find us a ride to kisumu.  At this point we were trying to prepare ourselves that we might not get to kisumu but instead have to stay in Nairobi until the christmas rush was over.  Well, we did get a bus the next morning.  Rode all day in a hot bus to get to kisumu.  Staci came later that afternoon (she lives only a few hours from kisumu) and all was good!  Here are some pictures:

(From top to bottom: sizzling brownie at the Laughing Budda restaurant, Staci greeting monkey at the reserve park, car wash (?) in Lake Victoria covered with hyacinth, Becky and her favorite companion)

It was a nice couple of days in Kisumu (one of Kenya’s three cities).  We mostly just walked around and saw the sites (Staci and Charlie had been there before).  We thought we’d go see The Voyage of the Dawntreader (CS Lewis) movie for our “gift” but there was only one movie theater open and it was only playing Harry Potter, which incidentally I forgot to mention I saw in Nairobi (I know that is a shock to some, but it was with a big group of PC volunteers so it is more about the experience of seeing a movie and eating popcorn).  By the way – I also saw “The A-Team” … now that is a cinematic masterpiece (Ha!  It did have Liam Neesom who is always very cool).  On Christmas eve we went to the roof of the hotel where they have a small dining room.  We were there waiting for our order and it started raining very hard and lightning.  We were getting a bit wet but it didn’t make sense to try to leave since we’d get even more wet (we were under a tarp of sorts).  So, we ordered hot tea which was great!  Then, we finally got our food which was I think the best thing I’ve had since being here in Kenya.  It was like a stir-fry.  I got the vegetarian with rice and cashews and it was FANTASTIC!  Really well done.

On to the trip back home….we talked to Danielle (who lives about 2 hours from Kisumu) and decided to go stay a night at her house.  She has a relatively big house, two bedrooms, a living room, and an actual kitchen.  I actually had to sleep with a blanket which never happens on coast!!  We had some good food provided be her neighbor and then watched the movie Love Actually (kind of a christmasy movie) on her computer (she also has electricity!).  So, that was a lot of fun.  She even made french toast the next morning.

Finally – Staci, Charlie, and I are headed back to our sites. Well, Charlie is actually first going back to Nairobi to do some Peace Corps stuff.  So, we all get in the matatu and are waiting as usual for them to actually go.  For some reason this particular tout (the guys who flag you the matatu and take your fare) was really making me annoyed.  It’s pretty normal to sometimes get annoyed when you are always being called “mazungu” (white foreigner), or being asked for money, or you can tell that they are talking about you but you’re not sure all of what they’re saying, etc…. BUT, this guy just seemed extra annoying to me.  I didn’t actually realize how annoyed I was until we were actually on the road and Staci (who is a couple seats behind me) says, “Becky, I think you should just stay an extra night in Nairobi and go have a hamburger with Charlie”.  She said something like, I’ve never seen you so visibly angry.  (Yes – I actually do display a lot of patience and restraint in most cases because it’s just easier to live that way and why should I let someone else spoil my daily living?).  My original plan was to get to Nairobi and take the bus or train direct to mombasa.  Of course, I thanked Staci for being so concerned about me (I must have seemed stressed) and then said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea”.  So, Charlie called Upperhill Camp (again) and got room and we indeed went and had a hamburger and coke (of course!). 

Well – this is about where the story ends..kind of.  I did get my bus ticket that day so I could leave the next morning.  It was still kind of crazy in Nairobi (just like holiday travel anywhere).  I got to Mombasa that night at the Lotus hotel and ran into a couple of other volunteers (Daniel, Jonathan, and Jeff).  They were going out to eat somewhere so I tagged along.  I ate some kind of rice with something (can’t remember what it was) at an Indian restaurant and then had a piece of chocolate cake at this other place.  I know, it’s terrible (and my thighs can prove it!).  Nothing really unusual except that the next morning I felt a little clammy like I was going to be sick.  I tried to eat some toast and then got on my way to go home.  I’m in the matatu leaving Mombasa and feeling a bit queasy.  I thought I might be okay but about 15 minutes or so I had to actually vomit out of the window (luckily I was at the window).  Another volunteer, Mary, lives in this town Mtwapa which is only about 20-25 minutes out of mombasa.  So, I called her quick and asked if I could get off and stay at her house.  Of course she said yes.  So, now I’m getting off in Mtwapa. 
Mary is in the middle in the picture that was taken previously when I returned from medical.  She, Nicole (right), her visiting friend Camille, and I took the train back to Mombasa earlier in December.  So, that was really the last part of my entire holiday.  I ended up staying the night at Mary’s place.  I think I just had a bit of food poisoning but it went away by that night.  I’m sure there is much more I could say, but I think this is the end.  Next holiday I will be in US!  THE END.