Saturday, February 11, 2012

Catch ups.

There's no excuse for the lack of posts other than hair appointments and over-booking dinner engagements. I'm stateside again and back to selling shoes. There were several notes from the last of the trip as written in Nairobi and the Masai Mara....

We left on Wednesday for Baduda. It’s a slightly larger village but still very rural. It is the home of the school and vision of John Wanda with a later addition of a clinic. The compound is sprawling, with a farm and dairy cows to complete the self-sufficient operation. We happened to coincide our visit with a group of students and a professor from the DC area so we felt a little at home right away. Plus there’s Caitlan. Cait. She is the volunteer coordinator running both Baduda and Bupoto and to quote my friend Doogs, she is overflowing with “youthful exuberance”. I was sad to leave her.

After the brief tour, we left to meet Lisa and Doug at the fork in the road on the way to Mbale. They hopped off a Boda (motorcycle) and into the car. We got to Mbale around 1pm. One of the nurses on staff at Bupoto set me up with man at a hair salon when we got there. Pretty sure I was the only mzungu to have walked in there. Ever. But the man wasn’t there. So they sent me to “Lords and Ladies”. I was scooped up and before I could even blink, I had magenta streaks braided into my blonde locks. I love them.

The day was going well. Chat and Chino was our telescope into the western world for an afternoon so I sipped the best iced mocha I’ve ever tasted (could’ve been because the cow was behind the shop) and surfed the internets. 4:30. The bus should be there. Nope, delayed. 7:30, delayed. 10:00, delayed. We had been sitting in that cafĂ© all day so Jake made the call. We had seen a really spiffy resort the last time we were in Mbale so we poorly negotiated a cab and splurged. Clean white sheets, TV, hot showers, and a pool. Mbale Resort Hotel appears to be one of the nicest hotels in the country. I felt a bit uneasy as we left 20 or so fellow travelers on the side of the road waiting for the bus but I was a happy girl.

So the bus never came. They slept on the street. We arrived in time for the next day’s departure and saw two buses: one with oil spilling out of the front end all over the street, and the next not looking much better. But I heard the engine rumble so we hopped on and crossed our fingers. It took off only 45 minutes late after a few jostled wires and taps of a hammer. Malaba was the first real stop. It's the border of Uganda and Kenya. Of course we got lost. It cost us $100 shillings, some glucose biscuits, and almost an adoption to hire some kids to get us to immigration. But we made it back. And I even got a potty stop. A horrendous stink of a pit latrine was enough to scare the pee pee right out for the rest of the night.

We reached Nairobi at 5:45am after breaking down several times. The hunk of junk busted down about a half mile from the office in Nairobi and they told everyone to walk. Except for us. I think they were afraid for us. But we made it safely and wandered the city center until a reasonable hour. I left my bag, passport, computer, camera, etc. in the Stanbic Bank ATM room and frantically had to run the city looking for it. I'm pretty certain my aortic valve almost caved under the pressure. But other than that it was a pleasant morning. My friend Mercy kindly let us stay at her (boyfriend’s) house until we left for safari. It was a sudden change from rural Uganda.

Roy was trained as a software engineer and now works for Microsoft in some sort of executive account manager position. And Mercy will be a doctor in December. His top floor apartment was fully equipped with a stove and oven, microwave, refrigerator, and carefully decorated. We had our own room with a full bath and a huge, very comfy bed. They took us on a tour of every high-end neighborhood and shopping mall in Nairobi with a finale of bowling and billiards. We were a long way from our little village in Uganda.

In the morning we will safari. 3 days of the Masaai Mara.

The driver couldn’t find Roy’s apartment. But aside from that, the morning seemed to be off to a smooth start. We reached the escarpment that marks the eastern border of the Rift Valley. I remember this from last time. A slew of shops lined up with signs touting the “best view” around. And “curio” shops. Everything was just as expected until the van started gurgling and smelling like burning bacon. Very strange especially since I’ve actually never seen bacon in Africa. Not good. We stopped in the driveway of a Masai family and the woman greeted our driver apprehensively. But she hauled some water for him while I peed on a cactus. And we were off. Safe Rides Safari was appearing anything but safe.

The long bumpy ride led us to a tented camp outside the park. A Masai named “Sam” , real name 16+ syllables I couldn’t pronounce, led us to our tent. After a glass of apple juice, we left for our first game drive. A pride of lions were the first sighting and got us off to a nice start. I hoped we would get lucky given it was not the migration I was so lucky to see the last trip.

I decided to take advantage of the few hours of electricity we had when we returned to camp and take a shower. But I turned on the water and out popped a spider. Not the daddy long legs kind, but the fat body kind. It was huge. I called Jake to come kill it but he’s the National Geographic guy. Of course he wouldn’t kill it. He swatted it away only to be seen during inopportune times in the future. Grr. (hehe, little did he know those times would be next to his boxer shorts!)

Day two on safari was intended to be a full game drive with Robert. I had pancakes at breakfast but after spreading ant-infested jam all over them, I was left with little appetite. Oh well, we brought Cliff Mo-Jo bars. Good stuff. We didn’t see much for the first few hours but then the excitement began. The van overheated again. Luckily we were following another company that let us hop into their vehicle. The day was fairly contrived with a box lunch at the river complete with monkeys that steal your food. The upside was that we got to see a lion, some hyenas, and vultures, feeding on the leftover prey of two very fat cheetahs. Truly amazing.

The third day was a hunt. We watched a lioness and her two cubs hunt down a heart beast. It was thrilling. It turns out that lions really aren’t very fast. So the heart beast got away. We were looking for a black rhino and a leopard but no luck. Next time.

Day Three: back to Nairobi. We broke down again. Twice. And we got stuck in traffic worse than I’ve ever seen. The Beltway? The 405? Forget about it. Nairobi wins. A cop was manually directing lanes and ours happened to slip his mind. We almost missed our flight to Uganda. We had to leave some old man that had hitched a ride from the Mara on the side of the road but we made it. We arrived in Entebbe with more than enough time to catch our 3am flight to Turkey. I bought some sandals at double what it normally would cost in the village but I was overheating in the hot, muggy airport. Entebbe actually even had showers in their airport so I took advantage.

Then it was Uganda to Turkey. I remember a fat screaming baby in his diaper all the way but I don’t really remember Turkey. And then it was Turkey to JFK. And the fat baby was there again! Maneuvering through customs tested my patients and we almost missed our connection. I found out my bag didn’t make it out of Turkey. But we somehow made it to DC. Jake and I were both missing a bag but were home safe.

My bed had never felt so good and I will never take it for granted. Ever. And my lights turn on when I flip the switch. And my toilet flushes and the hot water gets really hot. And here is where the real challenge begins. We acclimate and ease back into the luxuries of our daily lives but memories of Bupoto and our experiences must never fade.