Allison in Africa

I have been to Kenya three times, totaling nearly twelve months from 2003-2008. This blog is filled with a few of my thoughts, stories and pictures from my second and third trips (January-March 2006 and May-August 2008), mainly around Kitale and Mt. Elgon in the Rift Valley Province.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thoughts upon arriving back in Canada

Nairobi (Museum etc.)

The great Rift Valley. This is how you know you are getting close to Nairobi!

Holly was SO happy to find REAL coffee (latte) at the museum in Nairobi after the safari. Mike was happy for his strawberry milkshake, and I was happy to have such a nice view from the patio and a rest before we took a night bus to the coast! (this pic was taken just before we went to the coast, but I put it with the other museum pics anyways.)

When the safari guide brought us back to town, we had lunch, then filled out an evaluation form about our experience. This was a good idea, as we all had plenty of suggestions to make the trip more enjoyable for the next folks. Then the driver brought us to the Mennonite guesthouse where we would be staying just before leaving the country, so we could drop our excess baggage there. We finally said good bye to them when they dropped us at the national museum for a rest.

The new entrance to the museum. Its renovations are fabulous. After being closed for two+ years, I suppose they should be!

Traditional milk jugs, made of gourds in the museum.

Butterflies of Kenya on a map of Kenya. Taken for my dad, the entomologist.

An amazing collection of stuffed birds. I wouldn't be surprised if all of Kenyas 1000+ species are represented there. It was so cool to see my bird book life size, and in three dimensions!
A stuffed hippo. There were also an elephan, zebra, and countless other animals stuffed nicely for display.My friend Lucy with a stuffed lion we bought for her son. I got to know Lucy five years ago, and was happy to be able to catch up a bit and introduce Mike to her. Conveniently, she works at the museum.

The legendary Masai Market. Where you can get deals on any craft in Kenya. It was considerably less harrowing of an experience than the first time I went. I'm not sure why. People relaxed somehow, or I relaxed... it wasn't stressful at all, and Holly, Mike and I left feeling fairly satisfied that we hadn't been cheated and that we hadn't given anyone too low of prices (those are the two feelings I always left with on my other visits to the market). this market is there 1-2 times a week, but when it is not there, it would be difficult to imagine that all those people and wares could fit in those sloped bits of roadside space!

The Mennonite Guesthouse, our accomodation for the day/night before our flight. They had full board catering, family style, where we met folks like us who were coming or going to all sorts of interesting projects. It was a convenient half hour walk from the museum, and they arranged taxis to pick us up from our night bus from the coast at 5am, then from the guest house to the airport at 5am the next morning! Highly recommended. Beautiful grounds, friendly people, and hot showers!

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Malindi and Mombasa

A man chillin' at the Malindi waterfront.

Another man trying to sell Holly some fish... ummm... no thank you...Mike, pay attention to this sign! (just in case you are tempted?!) - At the entrance of Haller Park, a rehabilitated quarry just outside Mombasa.
There's the tortise. The last time I was here the tortise was on land, considerably more tempting to sit(?!) on.

Why, hello Mr. Giraffe!
Would you like some food?
Baby croc.
Teenage croc.
Albino croc.

Big Croc. And some weaver bird nests.

Spot the Hippo...

Carved out of coral rock, this was the entrance for slaves and goods coming in from ships below. At Fort Jesus, built in the 1500's at the heart of Mombasa. It changed hands between the Portuguese and Arab/Omani rulers multiple times before ending up in British control.

A cannon in the wall.

A carved door. These kinds of doors are really typical for the coastal cities.

Why hello there Chameleon! Thanks for posing!The famous, and tacky, tusks of Mombasa.

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Something New at Gede Ruins

and... This is what is new! A tree house built in a huge Baobab tree in the middle of the ruins. It gives an amazing view of the ruins- I think this is the palace- and it also supports A Rocha's Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Eco-Tourism Scheme (ASSETS), a fund to send local kids to secondary school.

Gede Ruins are the ruins of a town which is now about 8km from the coast. I think it used to be much closer when it was actually built, 800(?) years ago. It was kind of lost for a few hundred years, and people aren't too sure why the original inhabitants left, and also aren't too sure why there doesn't seem to be any reference to it in historical records. Something that always amazes me is that all sorts of centuries-old Chinese and Indian artifacts have been found here (as well as Fort Jesus in Mombasa).
The entrance to the Mosque
A millipede, or 'Mombasa Train' (because it is so big and slow). For the record, millipedes, which are nice and shiny and big and slow, are harmless. Centipedes on the other hand are smaller, lighter in colour, fast and squirmy and pack a big sting. Do not put your finger this close to a centipede.
Look at all these great little feet working in unison. Beautiful.

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Around Mwamba Field Study Center

These pics were taken just outside A Rocha Kenya's Mwamba Field study center . More info on A Rocha Kenya's field study center, programs and local conservation activities here: The beach just outside Mwamba, A Rocha Kenya's field study center where I had lived for six months in 2003-2004. The beach was unusually full of seaweed this week, so it was surprisingly difficult to get a picture with so much white sand. This is a long spit of sand that we found about 20 minutes up the beach, towards the Italian resort end.
In my mind, Mwamba is perfectly situated on this long stretch of beach in that it is about 3km from any resort. We found these nouveau-Masai (I am not in any way convinced these are actual Masai- likely opportunists dressed up in something tourists would like to take a picture of, which is why I don't feel badly about taking a picture of them without paying) heading back from mingling with Italian tourists. Usually though, there are not any 'beach boys' around Mwamba, so you are left in peace when you go down for a swim.
Some garbage that washed in with the seaweed- again- this is not normal for most of the year- I never saw it this bad in the six months I had stayed there. At the Turtle Watch rescue center in Watamu we read an article about a large turtle that washed up on the beach and had 20+ plastic bags in it's stomach. Yikes. I'm surprised it survived that long. Turtles can easily mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and choke on them. Littering is just not cool, on land or on the water.Here is Francis, the gardener at A Rocha and his family with a bag I gave them from my university. I'm putting this in because I wrote a post on Harry, the oldest son, two years ago on this blog. At that point he was building his own house to live in . Amazingly, Francis (the dad) was married and well on his way to seeing his first son born by the time he was Harry's age now (16).A sprouting coconut in Francis' nursery. Did you know how coconuts sprout? Cool, eh?

Mike and Francis at Francis' roadside nursery. The nursery is on the property of some friends of his, and he pays them a bit of rent for the land and for them to look out for it. There is a water source nearby, and it is high visibility. I am so amazed at how well all these tropical plants grow without a greenhouse... they were pretty much all tropicals that we would only see inside here.

Some pretty flowers from the Mwamba Nature Trail...

My favourite tree EVER - The Rhinocerous Tree (not the real name...). I make sure to visit it at the same spot on the Mwamba Nature trail each time I am there! These ants are not sinister, but I don't know exactly what they are doing. either harvesting food or water.

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Mida Creek Mangroves

Mida Creek is not a creek like what I think of in Canada. Rather it is like a large coastal estuary or sand flats. All the sand you see gets covered at high tide. People still use boats like the one you see in the foreground to go harvest fish from this rich ecosystem.

ASSETS students at Mida Creek. These students come from villages all around Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, and are some of the current beneficiaries of the ASSETS bursary fund, which is paid in part by contributions tourists make to walk on the boardwalk here. It was great to see so many of the students at the Field Study Center with us as they were having a little camp or retreat during our time there. When I stayed at Mwamba five years ago I worked quite a bit with advertising the boardwalk and the ASSETS fund, so it was nice to see the actual kids that get to benefit from it!

Our guide showing us that all is not as it seems- the 'sand' we were walking on is made of millions of tiny shells!

An egret or heron among the pencil-roots of the mangroves. I call them snorkel-roots because although they resemble pencils, they act like snorkels, bringing air down to the roots allowing gas exchange and growth despite the water-logged soil.

Another kind of mangrove species, this one with 'elbow roots' which start off life looking more like branches which grow down rather than up. Eight of the nine species of mangroves live in this small creek.
Here I am on part of the boardwalk.Here is a long skinny green seed escaping from a small brown fruit. The seed drops like a torpedo into the sand below, and sends out roots while standing vertically, ready to grow. The smooth brownish thing is one of those elbow roots, going down to the sand.

Raw oysters. The guide is showing that they are in fact edible. I tried one. They aren't so bad because they are much smaller than the ones on the west coast of Canada!

Looking at some cool bivalve.

Nice reflection.

Add your own caption here.

Mike trying out his first sips of coconut water- which I learned in my plant biology classes is actually 'the liquid endosperm of an unripe coconut seed'. That doesn't sound too appealing, does it? It is actually quite tasty and very rich. When coconuts are picked before maturity they are still quite moist, not at all like the hard white chunks that are shredded for macaroons or made into coconut milk.