I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy. – Ernest Hemingway
Arriving in Kenya
We didn’t really know what to expect, I mean who does? You’re flying into a place that not many of our friends have gone. Not many can explain what happens when you get to the airport or beyond. We arrived after a terrific flight on Kenya Airways, using American Express points transferred to Delta Airlines who is a Sky Team partner with Kenya Airways, about 80,000 points for first class seats. The luxury of flying up front was terrific, we chatted up the flight attendant who was happy to brag about the airline. He did help with some of the steps we needed to take once we landed.
The airport isn’t very modern, but very easy to navigate. Signage is in English so there is no problem understanding where to go for the entry Visa. We knew we needed to pick up Kenyan shilling, their cash to pay for our entry Visa, about $50 USD. They have an ATM near the desk as they only accepted cash when we went. The forms are easy to fill out and the line moves quickly. Stamped passport complete and we’re off to locate our ride to the hotel. With a little research we found a car hire that came recommended through TripAdvisor.com where we only needed to reserve the car. We used PayPal to pay in advance and receive confirmation along with the driver information a month before we arrived. Our driver was waiting for us after Customs. He lead us out to the parking lot and loaded us up for the drive into town to our hotel. We had to arrange for a hotel the night before we could fly out to the camp due to the flight schedules. It gave us a chance to wind down and enjoy colonial Nairobi.
Nairobi is amazing!
The drive took us from the open area of the airport that borders an animal reserve but we didn’t see any wild animals out there, as we got closer to the city center we did see cattle grazing. We did see a troop of baboons on the side of the road rummaging through garbage. Once you hit the populated city center the traffic starts to develop, more cars, scooters and buses. Oh, and the people randomly walking through the traffic is like watching a game of chicken unfold before your eyes. When you get to stop lights there are many different vendors that will come up to your car window to sell you everything. We could have bought socks or pantyhose, fruit, cigarettes, questionable bottles of water and even bike tires. Who needs a mall when you have everything on the street.
You know the English had a lot to do with the infrastructure as it was a British colony from 1920’s to early 1960’s. You see it in the way the streets are setup and a lot of the older buildings. They still drive on the left side of the street, I suppose old habits are hard to break. They even have roundabouts on the streets we were on. Our driver was very capable of handling the traffic and street vendors that it wasn’t long before we were at our hotel.
David Sheldrik Wildlife Trust
By far one of the coolest things, after skiing in an indoor ski run IN the desert, we reserved a private visit to the David Sheldrik Wildlife Trust. Here you can spend a couple hours with baby orphan elephants! With a donation you get the private visit otherwise you can go earlier in the day with the crowds. We sponsored an elephant, his name is Rapa. The Trust goes around Kenya picking up orphaned elephants where their mother was killed by poachers or sometimes the baby was just abandoned. After you sponsor your elephant you’re in monthly contact with the Trust where they give you updates on the care and well being of your elephant. We sent over $100 via PayPal which we consider a terrific price after seeing what kinds of crowds are there in the early part of the day.
When you arrive you notice the red dirt everywhere. Then you get to see warthogs roaming around, they’re covered in the red dirt. Once you’re let inside the compound you walk past a very large blind rhino. He was saved before his horn was cut off, he’s truly living well here as he has a huge pen all to himself. From there you walk past all the empty pens where the elephants are kept. They’re out in the wild for the day with each their own caretaker. These caretakers live with their orphan 24/7, they have beds in the pens to keep their young elephant company.
Seeing the baby elephants run in!
You’re then led out to where you see a well worn path and are told to stand off the path. The elephants will be coming back home for their night feeding and you could get run over. Once they start running in it’s like a parade! I had to stop taking pictures and just put my hand out to brush up against them as they ran by. It’s actually an emotional experience to see this.
Once they’re all inside their pens they are fed and you can walk around, on the outside of the pens to visit them. Rapa, our elephant was too busy eating and didn’t want to stop for pictures. That’s ok….we were completely fulfilled with the experience of being so close to them as they came running in. I would definitely do this again and often.
Our First Night in Africa
A friend recommended we stay at the Fairmont, The Norfolk hotel. We paid out of pocket for this stay as it was just 2 nights, one before the flight out to the camp and one after returning from the camp. About $160 per night. The place is incredible! The original structure was built in 1904! They only had 40 rooms back then but now have about 170 rooms. We arrived a little early for our room so we were invited to sit on the patio while they finished preparing the room. I don’t know how authentic the current lobby, restaurant and bar are but they do give you a hint of what it must have been like 90 years ago. Wood paneling everywhere, beautifully designed touches that pull from it’s African location and the staff is so attentive. There is tight security at this and every major hotel in the city. There was some terrorist activity a couple years ago and this caused a drop in tourist visiting the city. We were told that if we wanted to leave the hotel grounds we should ask for a guide to go with us. We opt’d to stay in for the night.
After a short wait we were told our room was ready. We were given a room in the front section, which I’m guessing is the oldest part of the hotel. Rooms aren’t huge but they’re generously appointed with lots of luxury and comfort. Granted, it’s not a new building, it has signs of it’s age but it’s overall gorgeous! We dined in the hotel restaurant that night, keeping it simple. They have several to choose from and changed it up for the morning breakfast.
Panic at the Norfolk
The following morning we were expecting the driver from the same car company to get us to the airfield. He was late….we panicked and kept trying to figure out how to get word to them so we wouldn’t miss the flight. Sitting out front, waiting and our pick up time goes by without our driving coming in. Turns out a different driver showed up but didn’t realize who we were and left. After having the front desk contact the company he returned and zipped us to the airfield with only 5 minutes to spare.
Next up – flying to the camp!
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