Wednesday, September 17, 2014


A certain member of our group had his 50th birthday during our stay at the Serena Ngorongoro Lodge. (Don't worry, Bill. I won't say who it was.) Since it was such an important birthday, we decided a Maasai Manhood Ceremony was in order. We dressed him for the occasion in a red Maasai shuka and a Maasai necklace, and we presented him with a real true Maasai spear, purchased from a real Maasai:
We considered but decided against the "cutting ceremony" but DID go for the traditional Maasai drink: cow's blood (okay, we had to use a substitute) mixed with milk. Our victim birthday boy proved his manhood by downing the tasty beverage:
I'm sure he slept like a baby after that concoction--a baby with colic.

We got an early start the next morning because we had a long, long way to go, almost 300 miles on sketchy roads plus a border crossing on our way back to Nairobi.  As is usual in the morning, a heavy blanket of clouds was ringing the crater, making the beginning of the drive out of the Ngorongoro Crater region in thick fog on a dirt road rather treacherous.  We passed a group of Maasai herdsman on their way into the crater to find grazing land for their animals:

For the next six hours, all the stereotypes of Africa were on view, including outrageous business names:

Bustling, colorful villages:

A woman hanging wet laundry outside her small home:
Tourist stopovers, featuring the ubiquitous wildlife paintings:
The wonderfully wild pattern and color combinations of the clothing of Africa women:
Herds of grazing animals and their keepers, who were wearing traditional African clothing:
Small villages with dirt streets, animals everywhere, and an incongruous blue crosswalk sign:
After a while, we actually transitioned onto paved roads. What a welcome change!

I'm not sure what these plants are--coffee beans?
Lumber--or firewood?
Somewhere behind those clouds is Africa's tallest mountain, towering Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet).
It was one of our big regrets that we never got a good view of the legendary peak.
I wish this picture of Mt. Kilimanjaro were mine, but it is from here.
Mount Kilimanjaro is just south of Kenya in the northeasternmost corner of Tanzania. On a very clear day, it can be seen from the skyscrapers of Nairobi. (Keep in mind that Nairobi's tallest building is 38 stories.)
See our route marked in red and Kilimanjaro just east of it.
I remember that when our daughter and her family lived in Tokyo, they would have a rare "Mt. Fuji Day" when Japan's iconic mountain could be seen from the upper floors of their condominium. I think it's much the same thing with Mt. Kilimanjaro in Nairobi.
Mt. Kilimanjaro seen from the 19th floor of a Nairobi building.
Picture from here.
But back to the journey. After many hours on the road, we finally arrived at the colorful, noisy, crazy border town of Namanga,
. . . where once again we experienced the desperate press of humanity trying to make a living:

And once again we needed to visit the Ladies' Room, where this startling and somewhat creepy attendant awaited our tips:
Similar to our previous border crossing into Tanzania, we had to go through two separate processes, each with a nice long line, one for leaving Tanzania and one for entering Kenya. At the end of it all, however, we were able to board our Land Cruiser driven by Steven, our blessed Kenyan driver. He even brought us some box lunches. What a relief to be back in his care.

I have read that the Kenyan government has plans to demolish the entire town of Namanga so that they can create a "One-Stop-Border Post" that will do a better job of collecting customs and minimizing smuggling while speeding up the border crossing process. The new facility would look like this:
Picture from here
Nice, but definitely not as fun.

As we approached Nairobi, we began to see more modern clothing on the people in the markets at the side of the road, but there was still plenty of traditional garb, as on the group in the back of this photo and on the women front left and front right:
I wish we could have stopped to wander through the market, but I think I may have been a little afraid--not of being harmed, but of being so incredibly out of place.

Here are a few random observations and some facts we learned from our drivers during this long day:

• Kessy, our driver in Tanzania, lives in Arusha and has four acres of coffee beans.  He says he has to sell the beans to the government, who regulates the price. There is no private market.

• As we drove through Tanzania, hundreds of people were walking alongside the road. Most of the children and adults--men and women--had shaved heads, especially in poor or rural areas. Many children were also walking alongside the road to and from school and going home for lunch at mid-day. Scary! I wonder how many get hit by cars. Probably not many because there really weren't many cars. Almost no private vehicles (other than motorcycles) were on the road, just safari vehicles like ours and some rickety local buses.

• There were acres of corn fields. What do they do with all of it? Kessy said they make flour. Masa?

• There were also fields of sunflowers, which are used for cooking oil.

• Steven told us there are one million Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania.

• When cows on the road blocked our way, which happened fairly often, Steven said, "Oh, it's the highway patrol."

• Every African we asked said he believed Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and they said it as if it were a well-known fact all around the world. 

• Occasionally we saw women in black burqas. About 11% of Kenya is Muslim, but not very many of those are the burqa-wearing type.

• As we entered Nairobi, we came to a divided highway, the first we'd seen on the trip. There were frequent speed bumps, which Steven called "speed HUMPS." 

• In most places, there was very little litter.

• Buses are crammed full of people. Note to self: Don't ever plan to ride the bus in East Africa. 

• On approach to downtown Nairobi, we saw large storks nesting in the trees. It reminded us of previous stork sightings in Strasbourg, France.

• Traffic in Nairobi is horrendous. We were at a complete standstill for long periods of time.

• There are lots of children selling things in the streets--fruit, pens, gum, wash cloths, paintings, electric fly swatters, etc. They run among the parked cars and knock on the windows.

• The only Caucasians outside of the city seemed to be tourists, and overall, I was surprised at how few of us there were! 

• Kenya gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1963. Steven told us that the UK brought many good things to the country, including good farming techniques and better education.

• Many Brits still live in Kenya, mostly in the highlands near Mt. Kenya.

And so, at the end of a very long but interesting day of driving, we ended up back where we started, The Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel, poorer in the pocketbook but SO much richer in experience, and with tens of thousands of photos waiting to be uploaded, sorted, edited, and shared.

Next: Our Final Day in Nairobi


  1. As usual, I love your photos taken from the vehicle, people in colorful dress, laundry on the line, wild business names. That really helps to flesh out the Africa experience.

  2. I could get used to the African way of shaving heads and colorful costumes. Just think how quickly morning rituals would be without having to do hair, and grabbing any thing out of your closet, matching or not, and throwing a blanket-y thing over all of it.

    By the way, speed bumps in Billings are called speed humps, too. Weird.

    1. It must be because of all the Africans you have living in Montana.

    2. Or perhaps our "Speed Hump Ahead" signs were contracted out to someone in Africa....

  3. I have several pieces of fabric given to my by my SIL when she returned from Benin/Togo. Most of that fabric is made in Holland and shipped in; I'm supposing that this is the case for what you saw as well. She was also captivated by the clash and thrum of the patterns and colors -- fun to see this in your photos as well. And happy you were able to get back to Steven!

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