Wednesday, June 18, 2014

AFRICA: LOS ANGELES TO NAIROBI, KENYA



In May 2014 we embarked on a true adventure, a safari trip to Kenya and Tanzania, followed by a few days in Ghana.

The trip had what I think is a very unique origin. My husband is a partner in a law firm comprising five male attorneys. Five years ago, on the 15th anniversary of the formation of their firm, they planned a trip to Peru to celebrate, and they brought their wives along. We had so much fun that we decided to do it again to celebrate their 20th anniversary, but what trip could top Machu Picchu? Why, an African safari, of course!
Here we are in the firm parking lot, minus one couple we still had to pick up on our way to LAX.
It's pretty amazing to find five attorneys who not only actually enjoy each other's company, but who have wives who also like each other. A sixth couple, clients of the law firm, expressed an interest in going on a safari, and they were invited to come along. They were a wonderful addition.

We booked our African safari through Fun for Less Tours, a company Bob and I had previously traveled with to Russia and Scandinavia. (The posts on that trip begin here.) We had been so impressed with the quality of that tour that we felt confident about booking another one with them. (Note: We have already booked a third trip through Fun for Less for next year.) Our safari had a total of 35 travelers plus a married couple serving as the tour coordinators.

We met up with our traveling companions in the firm parking lot at 8:00 AM and were transported to LAX by airport shuttles. We arrived in plenty of time to check in and have breakfast.

We flew KLM Airlines to Nairobi via Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, a great place to spend an hour:



From Amsterdam we had a direct flight to Nairobi.


**WE INTERRUPT THIS POST FOR AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE!**
Before I continue, you need to get in the right mood, so here is some background music to listen to while you continue to read this post. It's the song I couldn't get out of my head for our entire trip: "Africa" by Toto (1982).
(Cue music)
Are you feeling it? Okay, let's move on.

We touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi at about 8:00 PM, a mere 26 hours after first gathering in the firm parking lot. With our stop in Amsterdam, we had traveled 9,702 miles. I think 26 hours is not bad for a journey almost halfway around the world. After all, Jules Verne gave Phineas Fogg 80 days to go all the way around the world, so 40 days to get from California to East Africa would have been about right. But I digress.

Unfortunately, on August 7, 2013, less than a year earlier, a fire had ripped through the international terminal, the one we were scheduled to use:
Photo and an excellent article on the BBC news site
Photo from here
Photo from here
The international arrival and departure areas were completely destroyed by the fire, so some flights were rerouted to the domestic sections of the airport, and others, like ours, were dealt with in more creative ways. We used mobile stairs to disembark from our plane, were moved by bus to a building, and then went through what looked like what might have been part of the parking structure that had been "repurposed" for use as a terminal. I think the airport has done quite a good job of making do with what is left.


We moved quickly through Customs and Immigration, made some currency exchanges, and headed out to the parking lot.
Our group--minus me (taking the picture) and plus one of the tour coordinators (on the right end).
Our drivers took us to the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel, where we would spend the night before leaving the following morning. Security was intense: an armed guard at the gate, vehicle inspection under the hood and using mirrors to see under the chassis, a bag scanner at the front door, and a metal detector to walk through. Maybe this is standard protocol, but it was comforting in light of the atttack on the Nairobi Westgate Shopping Mall by an Islamist terrorist group the previous September that had left 67 people dead.

Incidentally, the day after we left Nairobi, two explosions in the city killed ten people, and as a result Britain and the United States issued travel alerts to their citizens in Kenya, of which we were blissfully unaware.
We found the Intercontinental to be a lovely hotel, and we were happy to stay another night there at the end of our trip:

After a surprisingly good night's sleep, we enjoyed an extensive breakfast buffet in a very nice dining room:


We were ready to start our first official day of the safari. Our entire Fun for Less group had been divided up to fill six Land Rovers. There were three couples and a driver per nine-passenger vehicle, so there was plenty of room.
Our group of six couples filled two vehicles, and we stayed in the same vehicles with the same drivers for all of our time in Kenya.

Fun for Less contracted with Nahdy Travel & Tours to provide the vehicles and an extra vehicle that carried the luggage for the entire group. (That luggage vehicle was completely stuffed.) Each one of our six drivers was very experienced, incredibly knowledgeable about Eastern African flora and fauna, and multi-lingual. The drivers could talk to each other on high-frequency radios, something we later learned was very helpful in enhancing the safari experience. There was also always an ice chest full of bottled water in the vehicle, something we all really appreciated.
Our driver, Steven, has been driving safari tours for twenty-five years. He knew everything. Really. By the end of the trip, he was our hero.
The three ladies of my vehicle.
By the way, due to 68 years of British rule in Kenya, steering wheels are on the right side of the vehicle and we drove on the left side of the road. It took a bit of getting used to.

During the next two-and-a-half weeks, we traveled through Kenya and Tanzania with our friends, and then Bob and I flew to West Africa to spend four days with Bob's cousin and his wife, who are serving an LDS mission in Ghana.

Let the adventure begin.

6 comments:

  1. Love it. Can't wait to re-experience it with you.

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  2. I'm so impressed that Bob's office travels together. That's got to be rare.
    Looking forward to your travel adventure posts.

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  3. I'm looking forward to this set of posts too! (And where are you going next year?)

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  4. Cheese louise!

    You both travel enough to put the most culturally savvy hipsters to shame.

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  5. Life is ALWAYS a safari for you and Bob!

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  6. I remembered that I hadn't left any comments for you (technology issues) so finally here's my thoughts. Wow--terrific start and I'm glad to see this on a map. I'm always much better when I can see the places and spaces, so thank you for the opening post!

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