Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Nice Place to Visit…

Corruption Runs RampantToday was our final day in Kenya and we embarked on some souvenir shopping to end our trip. In all, we’ve had a fabulous time in Kenya and it was everything we needed it to be. But at the same time, we’re all looking forward to being back home in Mali. Although Nairobi is more developed than Bamako, we found it is still very much African and we experienced frequent power cuts each day, tap water that was undrinkable, and low (sometimes no) pressure showers.

Cole on SafariKenya is a notoriously crime ridden country where theft and crime are very common. It goes beyond pickpockets and purse snatchers into crimes called necklace snatching. When walking down the street, or sitting in a car at a traffic light with the window down, it is not uncommon for someone to grab any jewelry you’re wearing including watches, bracelets, and necklaces right off your wrist or neck. They’ll even grab cell phones out of people’s hands even as they are using them. It was also important to avoid being on streets at night. We were worried about these things and took many precautions, especially during our time in Nairobi. These precautions paid off as we were never the victims of theft. We are so grateful for God’s protection from this. Corruption is also a terrible problem in Kenya. Several places we went had signs saying “Report Corruption Here”. What a terrible and dark environment in which to live.

Clarks in MombasaOne of the things that drew us to Kenya for vacation was to be in an English speaking country. However, English speaking doesn’t always mean American speaking. We had to speak very slowly and deliberately to be understood because people had a difficult time with our accent – and even then, we found people often heard something entirely different than what we said. It made for some humorous memories that will continue in our family for a long time.

June is rainy season in Kenya and we saved a lot of money by staying here outside of tourist season. We were worried that we would be rained out of a lot of activities. But thankfully, it didn’t rain until today, and it was a light rain that didn’t affect our plans. All in all, it was a fabulous trip and one that will last in our memories for a lifetime.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shop Till You Drop

ChicKingShopping day! We were able to find a small mall and a large Nakumatt store, which is the Kenyan equivalent of Super WalMart. We picked up a few things we can’t get in Mali and looked around in several different stores. We were also able to find some primary reading books that Julie is eager to use in her reading ministry with the Nigerian women in Mali. This is going to be a wonderful new resource.

There are no Western fast food restaurants in Kenya – not even a McDonalds. We were hoping for some comfort food and finally stumbled upon a Middle Eastern fast food chicken restaurant called ChicKing. It is very similar to KFC. This became a frequent dining establishment for us over the next few days.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

At the Movies

This morning we boarded a plane for our return flight to Nairobi. What took us 18 hours by train, we accomplished in only 1 hour by air – and for the same price! But we would never trade the experience we had on the train.

Once back in Nairobi, we checked back into the same hotel which felt comfortable and familiar. After lunch, we began to take advantage of being in a big city. One of our first stops was a movie theatre to see the latest Pirates of the Caribbean IV movie. It was nice to sit in a theatre and watch a movie in English while eating hot buttered popcorn. After the movie, it began getting dark and we headed back to our hotel for dinner and some sleep.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jesus is Our Fortress

Fort JesusToday we toured the premier landmark in Mombasa – Fort Jesus. Fort Jesus was originally built in 1593 by the Portuguese to protect the harbor of Mombasa. The fort changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1875. When the British colonized Kenya, Fort Jesus was converted into a prison and remained so until 1958 when it became a national monument and museum. Fort Jesus was the first fortress outside of Europe designed to withstand canon fire.

Fort Jesus CanonsAfter Fort Jesus, we toured around a bit of Old Towne Mombasa then explored modern downtown in search of lunch. After lunch, we headed back home to Amani Acre in a tuk-tuk – a small three wheeled taxi. They are just like the ones seen on the TV show Outsourced.

We spent the rest of the afternoon resting and walking along the beach collecting shells to help us remember our wonderful time in Mombasa.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Circle of Life

Giraffe - YumFirst thing this morning we headed out for another game drive before breakfast. Morning is supposed to be the best time to see animals. We soon came upon a hyena eating what was left of a giraffe that had been killed by a lion a couple of days ago. We also spotted a lot more elephants and deer. When we got back to camp for breakfast, our fellow campers showed us pictures of a lion they had just seen on their game drive. We were disappointed we didn’t’ see it, but have been very excited about all the other animals we have seen.

GiraffeAfter breakfast, we packed up and left the campsite for our final game drive as we headed out of the park. We saw several giraffes, gazelles, and ibex along with a couple of herds of elephants. Just as we were leaving the park, we saw several wild camels too. In all, we were very pleased with our safari. We saw over 20 types of animals, including 3 of what’s called the BIG FIVE game species (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, & buffalo).

Stopped by Water BuffaloWe count our safari as one of our greatest adventures in Africa. With our California tourism experiences, our safari was reminiscent of the San Diego Wild Animal Park or Lion Country Safari. However, this is no zoo. It is not a controlled environment. There are no zoo keepers and no one attends to the animals’ needs. This is the wild and the animals all fend for themselves. The food chain is in full operation here. The carnivores eat the other animals in the whole Circle of Life thing. All of the animals are protected species and hunting is illegal. But poaching is still a big problem because of the vastness and isolation of the parks which encompass hundreds of square miles. There are a few park wardens to help control poaching, but sadly it remains a profitable business. In Mali, it’s possible to find fresh ivory, leopard skins, zebra skins, and animal heads for sale in the market – all products of illegal poaching in Kenya.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lion Country Safari

Safari JeepToday marks the pinnacle of our trip – the beginning of our 2 day African safari. We were picked up at 6:30 in the morning by Nicholas, our safari guide. From there, it was a 4 hour drive to Tsavo East – one of the larger game reserves in Kenya. We got so caught-up in the excitement that we even bought safari hats from a vendor at the park entrance. They’re the African safari version of Mickey Mouse Ears hats at Disneyland.

We booked with a company called Wildlife Kenya Safaris. We would highly recommend them. Our jeep was a specially equipped Toyota Land Cruiser designed for safari purposes. Every seat was a window seat and special sunroofs allowed us to stand up for an unobstructed 360° view.

Elephant PatriarchWithin a few minutes of entering the park, we encountered our first animals, a group of wild wart hogs. In Swahili, they are called pumba – sound familiar? A few minutes later, we spotted some zebras. Then came the elephants. And boy, did we see a lot of elephants throughout our safari. Nicholas knew where several watering holes were located which gave us the opportunity to see a lot of animals – some of them quite up close. We also came across a large herd of water buffalo. They had the habit of standing and staring us straight in the face. Continuing on, we encountered baboons, an ostrich, and several types of gazelle, ibex, and antelope.

Safari Tent - Sitting AreaAfter a couple of hours, we headed to our camp to get checked in and have some lunch. We chose to stay in a campsite rather than a safari lodge and we’re very happy we made that choice. Our camp was situated in the middle of the game reserve. Our lodging was a large, luxurious tent. It was about 15 x 25 feet. It had electricity and even had a complete bathroom with sink, toilet, and a shower with hot and cold running water.During lunch, we had to shoo off several monkeys that kept trying to sneak up on our table and steal food. Cole got a special kick out of this. He took a video that we’ve posted as our video of the week.

Lepord in a Tree Looking for LunchAfter lunch, we headed out for another game drive. This time we encountered several giraffe along with more water buffalo and elephants. Around sunset, we came upon a leopard sitting in a tree in the middle of a herd of water buffalo. We stopped and watched for several minutes, anticipating he was going to pounce on some dinner. But the sun was setting and we needed to head back to camp before dark.

Clarks and MasaiAgain, because it was before tourist season, our camp was very quiet. Our camp could accommodate over 60 people, but tonight, there were only 4 other people besides our family. After dinner together, we sat around a campfire. We were then escorted to our tents by a traditional Maasai tribesman. His job was to guard our campsite and keep wild animals out the camp because we were camped deep in the wild bush. We had to really rely on his ancient skills as he was only armed with a flashlight and a stick. Once in our tents, we had to remain inside for safety. Several times throughout the night, we could hear lions and other wild animals outside our camp. It was really cool.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father’s Day

Mombasa ChurchToday we attended church with Martha. It was within a quick 5 minute walk from Amani Acre. It was a small church of about 20 people. In Mali, our YWAM team visits a different church each month and helps lead the church service. In Mombasa, the local YWAM base does the same thing, and this Sunday, they were leading at Martha’s church! So we had a chance to meet the local YWAM team too.

Mombasa ResortMombasa is the home to dozens of world class, 5 star vacation resorts. Being Father’s Day, John was treated to a special Father’s Day brunch. Together with Martha, we dined at the 40 Thieves Restaurant at one of the resorts. We sat on the beach while a jazz band played and watched as camels walked along the shore.

On the way home, we stopped at a real grocery store! This was our first trip to a full size grocery store in almost a year! It didn’t have the selection of Western brands and products we were hoping for, but there were ample supplies all kinds of food including fresh, sliced bread – something Julie has been craving for months.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

All Aboard

Mombasa TrainLast night at 7:00, we boarded the train from Nairobi to Mombasa, the coastal shipping port of Kenya. The trip was one of the highlights of our vacation. We had our own first class compartment with seats for all of us that converted into beds for the night. We also had a small sink and closet too. The train cars are over 50 years old, so things were a bit worn out and not everything worked, but it was very pleasant and comfortable anyway. Our cross country trip was 18 hours and included dinner and breakfast in the dining car. While we were at dinner, the porter made up our beds in our compartment. Because tourist season hasn’t started yet, the train was very quiet and uncrowded. The car we were traveling in only had one other couple in it. And believe it or not, the price for all of this was only $50 per person.

Train CompartmentWe traveled all night stopping often at various village stations to pick up and drop off passengers. With the full moon, we had a beautiful view of the Kenyan savanna. Much of our trip was along one of the major game parks. But unfortunately, we didn’t see any animals. We’ll leave that for our safari in a couple of days. And from the stories we read in the museum, we’re happy we didn’t have any animal encounters.

There was one delay this morning when a train in front of us derailed and was blocking the tracks. But it was fixed within an hour and we were back on our way. This is remarkable for Africa, where train derailments are common and travel delays are often counted in days, not hours.

Martha & JulieMombasa is an island on the Kenyan coast. It was necessary to take a ferry to reach our accommodations. We stayed at a missionary guest house called Amani Acre which is operated by Africa Inland Mission. A woman named Martha Pontier is the caretaker and manager. She is one of our fellow missionaries from our home church in California and we enjoyed meeting her and getting to know her. Amani Acre far exceeded our expectations and was a wonderful breath of fresh air – literally. Our accommodations were a beach house that was 75 feet from the white sand beach of the Indian Ocean. Cool breezes blew in through the windows and filled our lungs with fresh, ocean air. The area is actually a beautiful coral reef teaming with exotic and beautiful sea life. And because it’s on the equator, the ocean water is warm and inviting. When the tide goes out, it’s possible to walk out onto the reef and see amazing tide pools.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rallying Together

Today we ventured out of the hotel to explore a bit. To our surprise, we soon came upon the starting line of the Kenya Safari Rally, one of the toughest car rally races in the world. It was fun looking at the cars in the staging area then seeing them race from the starting line to begin the three day race through Kenya.

Later in the day, we visited the Nairobi Railway Museum. It was fascinating to learn about the history of the Kenya and Uganda Railways. Like the U.S., the railroad played in important part in Kenya’s history. Sadly, over 2,500 people died constructing the Nairobi to Mombasa line that we will be traveling on tonight. Many of them died by wild animal attacks including some who were pulled out of their railway sleeping cars by lions at night. The museum also had an excellent collection of old steam locomotives and vintage train cars we could explore. This helped build our excitement for our train trip tonight.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just Flew In From Mali and Boy Are My Arms Tired

We left Mali last night at 7:30 and arrived safely in Nairobi, Kenya this morning at 5:30. Africa is a huge continent and it took us 7 hours to fly to Kenya plus a three hour time change. We got processed through immigration and received our visas very quickly then headed by taxi to our hotel in downtown Nairobi. We were all pretty tired so we crashed in our hotel room for most of the day. We’ll be spending one night here before heading to the coast via train tomorrow night.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Out Of The Office

We’re excited to be leaving on vacation today.  We’ll be spending the next 12 days in Kenya for some much needed R&R.  West Africa (where we live) is very different the Lion King Africa that most people envision.  We don’t have any wild animals apart from a few elephants and hippos.  We’re looking forward to seeing lions, giraffes, and the other animals associated with Africa.  In addition to our safari, we’ll be spending half our time in the capital of Nairobi and the other half in Mombasa, on the coast of the Indian Ocean.  We’ll be living off the grid without telephone or email.  We’re looking forward to sharing all about Kenya upon our return.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bursting at the Seams

This morning we awoke to the sound of rain.  It was interesting because the sun was shining and birds were singing – not usual signs of rain.  As John got up to check things out, he stepped onto the floor and realized our house was flooded.  Sloshing through the water, he opened the bathroom door and found the sound of rain was actually a burst pipe.  The bathroom was under an inch of water and much of the rest of the house was flooded too.  Thankfully, all of our floors are tiled so cleanup was relatively easy and damage was minimal.  We’re preparing to leave for Kenya in 3 days and are very grateful the pipe broke now rather than after we’re gone.