Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
84Trip End Aug 18, 2005
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We were told the laundry would open at 6.30am but it didn't. After breakfast we went back, to find all items with military quality creases. Bless. But - clean!! Ahh, nothing like putting clean clean clothes on. Second only to getting into a clean bed, with the bedding still warm from the tumble-drier. That'll have to wait until we get home I feel.
We've been thinking about what we miss while travelling. Nothing really. I guess butter, since I don't eat margarine at home. It's bearable though, and I completely understand not having butter out here - it'd just melt everywhere. I suppose dairy products as a whole. There is a cheese factory in Eldoret, so maybe we'll go get some Edam.
Also, personal space. I miss that. I like having time to myself, so being constantly watched and stuff can grate after a while. It's not so bad here in Kenya, though we are about to head up to Mt Elgon. Just having everyone crowding can be a bit tiring - we are from Britain after all!
After packing our newly clean stuff into our backpacks we set off, almost leaving my fleece behind at the laundry. This fleece has gone a lot further than I thought. I bought it in a charity shop in late 2002 before going up to Coll for the Project Trust meeting. I then left it in my cupboard at home until this summer. I had intended to leave it behind, initially in the car on the way to the airport in England, then on the plane itself, then I almost left it behind in Addis. Fortunately I hung onto it as it's been a lot colder than I imagined, particularly in the mornings. So it was a little odd to find myself checking the returned washing, realising it wasn't there and actively going after it. I've gotten quite attached obviously.
Getting to Mt Elgon took a series of 'hops', first on a matutu, then a share-taxi and then boda-bodas [bicycle taxis].
The matutu was to Kitale. Matutus don't have a particularly good safety record - the best you can do is check the vehicle before you get in it to see if it's about to fall apart, and hope for the best. The driver's ability [and sanity] cannot be judged before you set off, and by then it's all a bit late. Today, we chose badly - our driver was a lunatic!
This is the view from the back seat. Check out those shoulder... things... poofy!
And a view out the back -
We were dropped by the roadside, away from the matutu rank, so we asked for directions. Now this is something we battle with slightly: everyone is keen to help, but sometimes feel the need to walk with us rather than just point. We try and make it clear that to indicate a direction is enough. Fair doos if the route is complex, but in this case we just needed to know if it was up or down the road.
The guy we asked walked us. It turned out he manned a stall, and had voluntarily left it to come with us. Nice of him. But still, his prerogative. So when he demanded [not asked, demanded] money once we got there we refused. I'm sorry, but we made it clear we didn't need him to come with us. He argued for about 5 minutes, saying that time was money, but if that were the case then he would have been better spending those 5 minutes back at his stall. I know the average Kenyan earns a fraction of someone from England, but if someone asked me for directions back home, I certainly wouldn't expect payment for a simple service. What happened to good old fashioned kindness? He didn't seem in desperate need of money, more determined to take advantage of the lucky fare that landed in his lap. Can't blame a guy for trying I guess, but he persisted too long and got too aggressive about it. Nothing gets my back up quite like someone trying to change my answer from 'no' to 'yes' by pushing and pushing me.
And the end result is us feeling guilty for not being more grateful. Meh.
Anyway, after all that, we found that a share-taxi would be quicker for the quick hop to Endebess. Our fellow passengers were a friendly lot, especially the lady in the front. They seemed entertained to be sharing their morning ride with two grubby [actually, not so grubby after the laundrette!] muzungus.
Endebess is a tiny little place, all we could make of it was a large sprawling open air market [literally tables and blankets spread out on the dust by the side of the road] and some shack-like affairs selling basic stuff, all at the junction leading toward Mt Elgon. We were met by a small crowd of boda-boda dudes - good thing too - so soon we were heading down the track with the mountain up front.
We rode with our backpacks on - which isn't particularly safe since you feel like you're going to topple backwards onto the road. As long as you concentrate on clenching it's all good. The route was lined by some big eucalyptus trees. They seem to have colonised Africa very successfully, to the detriment of the indigenous flora.
Our final destination was Delta Crescent Farm, a campsite/animal sanctuary, about 3.5km down the track, and another 6km away from Chorlim Gate, the entrance to the National Park. It was a pretty flat route, so we didn't feel too bad about the riders taking us. Man, those guys are lean and fit, with rangy calf muscles from all the pedalling.
We got a number of amused responses along the way from the ubiquitous African foot traffic. A muzungu on a boda-boda? No - TWO muzungus on boda-bodas! With Big-ass Bags! A-hahahaha, we are the gleeful!!
We grinned and waved. Well, Stef did - I mostly clung onto the lip of the saddle. But I grinned extra to make up. Also I handled the Swahili side of things, yelling "Nzuri!" back in reply to any "Habari?"s. Mostly it was "Mazungu! Mazungu!" to which there is no standard response. Except maybe an irritable 'Oh, just piss off...' muttered under your breath, but not in this case. We grinned and ate bugs.
Delta Crescent Farm, as I said, is a sanctuary, and as such has a fence and a formidable-looking gate [more on that story later]. A guard lead us to the main complex where we signed in and decided on tented accommodation, and then made a show of umming and arring over the brochure thing before telling them that we'd arrange our own trip to Mt Elgon, thank you very much.
No, really. We mean it. Don't make me have to bite your hand...
It is American-run, with the main lady being stereotypically over-friendly in that American style guaranteed to totally rub British people up the wrong way. We asked about the sanctuary, arranging an afternoon trip, and also established what time the gate would be open in the morning so we could leave for Mt Elgon. By ourselves, yes. Get over it already! [Again, more on that story later.] Sufficiently rubbed for one day, we retreated to the safety of our tent.
Only to be forced out by hunger. The food is good though, so I guess the lack of British association is a good thing.
After filling the holes, we did the tour of the sanctuary. It's pretty small in the grand scheme of things but big enough that you don't feel like you are in an enclosed area. With the exception of the rhino, everything runs around together. We were on foot so it was a good way to get close-ish to the beasties. All herbivores mind, but still, I wouldn't like to mess with an eland. Especially the rescue one with one horn missing which tolerates black people but tries to rearrange the features of any white who gets too close. Had a bad experience I guess. Eland are the biggest antelope, and they are huuge!
There was also Thomson's gazelle - our first view of them, and a good opportunity to imprint a template image for when we do safari in Tanzania. Not that you can really mistake them for impala. There were some of those too, and a skittish herd of zebra who charged around the paddock area. I think it wasn't so much fear of us, as wariness combined with that horse-y need to run around like crazy things. One of them had a little foal, sooo cute.
And yey, giraffes! I love giraffes, dunno why. These ones were Rothschild's giraffes, smaller than the other species. Apparently going near them would be a bad idea as they get fed sugar lumps occasionally and their love for them has lead to them 'searching your pockets' for any you might have hidden.
You know when you were a kid and you went to one of those touch pens at the zoo or local farm, where you can get in with a load of goats and feed them little bags of food? And they don't wait for you to hand them stuff, they just get right in there, up in your face, or crotch depending on your height, and take what they want? And it hurts, cos they are not soft and fluffy, they are strong and nasty and clever?
Now imagine being shnuffled by a determined giraffe with a craving for sugar. Holy shit!! It would be so awesome, but I doubt you'd live to tell the tale.
And rhino. White rhino, quite the rarity in East Africa. I've seen them before, in South Africa, where they aren't exactly common, but less exciting than a Black Rhino. Still, I've not gotten this close before. They were in their own enclosure, surrounded by electric fence, to keep out poachers. Along with the big front gate [more later, kids!]. There were two, juveniles but still rather big and impressive up-close. White rhinos aren't named for their colour [they are more dark grey with dustings of whatever colour soil is around] but for the shape of their mouths. 'White' is a corruption of the Afrikaans world 'weit' meaning 'wide' - white rhinos have wide lips, and they eat with their heads low to the ground, hoovering up grass. Black rhinos aren't any more black than white rhinos, and they can be differentiated by the hooked upper lip, used to grab leaves and twigs from trees. Consequently they eat with their heads held higher, a good way to differentiate at a distance. Also, whilst I'm geeking on, white rhino are slightly larger, and tend to herd their baby in front of them, a la white people. Black rhino babies follow behind their mums, a la the African way of carrying babies on their backs.
Wasn't that informative?
The rhino were eating right next to the electric fence so we could literally stand beside them and watch them munch away. And occasionally electrocute themselves. Silly!
Tour over, we figured it would be an idea to gather supplies for the walk tomorrow. Delta Crescent is 200m down from a cross roads in the track, and this is a good place to flag down a boda-boda or two. Without our bags the ride was much more enjoyable. It's such a refreshing form of transport.
Back in Endebess we wandered down to that open market affair [stopping along the way to pee in the bushes, nice] and perused the selections of bananas and tomatoes. The woman at the stall we chose just sat there and looked completely non-plussed when we asked for some. Which was kind of sweet and amusing, for a while, and then it was like, 'just give us the damn fruit, lady!' as it looked like it was going to rain soon. We also checked out the shacks for Marie biscuits or their equivalent, coming up empty. We got a loaf of bread instead.
Also spoke to the boda-boda dudes and asked if 2 of them could be at the gate to the farm, or at least the near-by crossroads, at 6am in the morning. We offered them considerably more than the usual for their efforts. They agreed.
Heading back to the junction we stopped to take a short film of the scene, complete with passing pickup truck kicking up a trail of red red dust. It ends up catching the first drops of rain and an amusing bit of background dialogue, mainly me saying:
"It's starting to rain."
"Shnooks? It's going to rain." [Stef says 'Mmm'.] "In a sec. Really hard."
Yes, I call him Shnooks. Let the teasing commence!
Fortunately it held off until we got back to the farm, miraculous really considering the rain falls quick and hard here.
Back at the ranch [sorry, I couldn't resist] we sheltered in the large communal dining area, an open-sided wooden structure raised high off the ground and furnished nicely. I can see this place being popular with overland trucks, it's got the safari feel. They keep horses in stables, which you can hire, I think. Also a couple of ostriches, and some duikers, though I'm not sure if they aren't just wild. Right next to the dining hall was a tree with dozens of weaver bird nests hanging in it. They were incredibly noisy little buggers, bright yellow, and they were forever flying off to the neighbouring maize field to tear long strips off the leaves to weave into their nests. They are so cool to watch, how they thread the strips without the use of hands.
When we arrived we were pretty much alone as far as we could tell. In the evening we were joined by 4 American travellers, having some R&R after doing volunteer work, I think building a school or something. They were all med students I think. Nice enough, but slightly irritating. Mind you, we weren't in the best of moods, so it might not have been anything to do with them. The iPod is playing up. We have been using it to store photos on so that we can take loads and not have to use internet cafes to download them. The iPod connects to a Belken device into which you plug in the digital camera memory card. So far this has worked a treat - it takes a while, but we just plug it in and leave if going overnight. It means we can effectively take unlimited photos.
However tonight it won't work. The iPod is not recognising the Belken, so won't transfer the photos. We tried wiggling the connection bits but nothing seemed to work. Maybe it's just had too much heat/cold/dust/vibration/all of the above? We have been looking after it tenderly, but I guess it can only take so much.
Huh. Kinda annoying, especially on the brink of gorilla trekking, and the safari...
We tried the only technique of technology repair left available to us - where you pretend that the problem doesn't bother you, in the hopes of fooling it into thinking there is no fun left in tormenting the humans, wherein it starts working again. Vindictive little bastard.
Bit like ignoring a child when they throw a tantrum.