Monday, March 30, 2009

Bumps, Bribes and Baboons

I'm back in Kenya for a short trip. Last time I came here, I wrote about how it felt like Europe: the men in suits, the skyscrapers, etc. This time, I'm getting more exposure to its African identify.

First, on the way home from the airport, I saw a zebra standing on the side of the main tarmack road. A zebra!

Then I went to Nairobi National Park, where I got to see a selection of zebras (they much fatter butts than I expected), giraffes (beautiful), water buffalos, baboons, gazelles, and a lion, among other animals whose names have escaped me. This park is just a few kilometres outside of town, but is as close to the Kenyan savana as you can get in the city. It's amazing. You can see wild animals in their natural habitat, with skyscrapers in the background! Plus the park isn't fenced, allowing animals to pass through during their migration. No wonder a zebra had wandered onto the road!

The next day, I headed with a friend to Mount Longonot, 2776 above sea level, for a little hike. On the way there, we were pulled over at a regular checkpoint by Kenyan police officers who noticed I wasn't wearing a seatbelt and immediately said "We are going to arrest you." ha. Of course, what they really wanted was money. If it wasn't the seatbelt, it would have been the car regisration or the lights or they would have found something to pick on. They said I would have to stay in jail for two days until the matter could be sorted out. Again, ha. Of course, we knew better. So, we proposed to settle the matter "locally and amicably" ie. pay a bribe. Some $25 later, we were on our way. "Have fun at Mount Longonot," the police officers called out, as we drove away, pissed off. Reportedly, they make $300 a day in bribes. I can tell you there was a long lineup of cars pulled over behind us!

Turns out we had taken the wrong road and the journey to Longonot, which should have been a smooth ride on a tarmack rode, turned into an adventure on small, bumpy dirt roads in a car that really shouldn't have been put to such a test.

Eventually, we did make it, and were appointed a guide, Anne-Paul. I asked her how long the hike would take. She said she does it in 40 minutes, but people "who spend all day in the office" were slower. The book had said the whole thing would take 6 hours, so I wondered just what we were in for and whether I was one of the lazy office people.

It turned out to be quite a challenge, with some parts really quite steep. Dad, you would have loved it. The climb to the rim of the volcanic crater lasted, as Anne-Paul had promised, somewhere around an hour. But from there, the path around the 2-km wide crater and to the summit, was another story.

We made it to the unremarkable summit eventually, covered in dust from the volcanic ashes. Along the way, we saw, again, plenty of zebras and giraffes. But most remarkable was the view, on the edge of a huge crater, overlooking the Rift Valley that crosses much of East Africa. At times I felt I was walking in the clouds.

Coming down was almost worse. Terrified I would slip and fall down the mountain in the midst of the unstable earth beneath me, I took one baby-step at a time, until I gave up fear and just started running down the mountain like a crazy person on speed!

I hadn't exercised like that in a while and it felt good...And also reminded me that as developed as Kenya was, it was still home to plenty of bumps, bribes and baboons!

1 comment:

Kamal Shaath said...

Looking good my friend... Good Luck and enjoy your stay in Kenya.