By Bonnie Roseman, September 26, 2018
By Bonnie Roseman, September 26, 2018
Recently, I returned from a mind-blowing trip at a critical turning point… About a week ago, my 18 year old daughter, Havana, left home to begin a gap year before starting college. Two days before that, she and I returned from a trip we had dreamed of nearly her entire life. When she was tiny, I used to jokingly tell her that when she finished high school we would go to Africa and see wild animals. This spring, as graduation neared, I decided to take it seriously. It truly was the trip of a lifetime.
After some research, I discovered travel agent Christina Cooper of Willamette International Travel in the Pearl District, http://www.wittravel.com. She specializes in Africa and visits the continent often. Her help was priceless and contributed to an exceptional journey. She helped us choose our destinations, Zanzibar and Kenya, and made sure we were prepared and that we had the shots, visas, cash for tipping and so many other details ready to go.
Before the trip, I did a lot of research and shopping and I used almost every single thing I took with me. We packed very light and skipped checking in any luggage until the way home, when my bag had expanded with a few purchases along the way. Key items included a new back pack that came in a women’s small, ideal for my 5’2″ frame, a monocular (I hate using binoculars), an action camera for under water shots, quick drying clothing that was easily washed by hand, and books. For reading material, I chose two Kenyan memoirs which greatly enhanced my travels, giving me a deeper understanding of the history, politics, economics, cultures and more.
We arrived in Zanzibar and were met by a friendly driver who wound us through back roads to the boat dock. The tide was so low that we had to don water shoes and wade out into the Indian Ocean to get on the boat that would take us to Chumbe Island.
This place is paradise! Seven guest bungalows house overnight visitors to the coral park, a nonprofit preserve. There is a lighthouse from the early 1900’s. The main building is set in the ruins of the former keeper’s house, now modified with an elaborate woven ceiling. It is a serene spot where gourmet meals are served overlooking the pristine sea and the old mosque which is still in use. We enjoyed three glorious days at Chumbe – snorkeling, playing in the ocean, walking in the forest to see baobab trees, 60 year old crabs and other wondrous flora and fauna. At low tide I walked the circumference of the island seeing scarlet starfish, sea cucumbers and other creatures, but not another human. One evening I went sailing on a handmade boat, the design of which had been passed down from generation to generation. The people were so warm, the food so delicious and the surroundings so stunning, it was so hard to leave!
We disembarked from the boat back on the main island and met up with our driver. We toured the government spice farm and headed to historic Stone Town. The old city is a vibrant tapestry of colors and textures. The Moorish architecture, featuring elaborate doors, lines winding, bustling streets. Nearly all women wear head coverings in an endless range of hues and patterns. Many men also wear traditional caps and garments of various styles. The visit to the slavery museum, including stepping into dungeon-like holding areas where slaves had actually spent time, was intense. The history presented was older and different than what we learn about in the US. The slaves of Zanzibar were not taken to the Americas. One exhibit told the story of a slave who had successfully achieved freedom and whose first act upon release was to go and purchase a slave. So much to absorb in such a short time.
At the Spice Farm
From Zanzibar we flew to Nairobi where we were met by our city guides and visited key tourist spots, including the Giraffe Center, the Karen Blixen Museum, Kazuri Bead Factory and the elephant orphanage. On a tour of the Kazuri Bead Factory, we learned that it was established to provide employment and services, such as medical and childcare to single mothers. Our travel agent had suggested we foster baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust so that we could visit during the evening feeding and pet the babies. Our kids are Maktao and Mapia. In this video, you see the calves coming in from the national park for dinner. They were distressed because a helicopter was delivering a newly found 8 month old baby to the orphanage and it was noisy!
For more information on the baby elephants, visit https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/
As soon as we got off the small plane at the Meru airstrip, we met our safari guide, Edwin, who would ensure that we saw the most amazing creatures large and small over the next couple of weeks as we visited Meru, Samburu, Lewa and Maasai Mara. There were brilliantly colored birds and lizards, enormous elephants, hippos and rhinos, tiny dik dik deer, antelopes, gerenuks, lions, leopards and cheetahs, baboons and monkeys, crocodiles, buffalo, wildebeest and hartebeest, jackals, hyenas and so many more! We saw a giraffe and her baby that was less than 30 minutes old, struggling to stand for the first time.
Like the open wall bungalow at Chumbe, the lodging in each place had special features. In Meru we stayed at Rhino River Camp, managed by perfectionist, Italian expat, Maurizio. The vervet monkeys and crazy caterwauling birds played in the trees outside our “tent”. Mauricio’s “girlfriend”, a crocodile who sunned daily at the lodge, and his hand-fed troop of bush babies made our time there even more special. At Samburu the vervets pretty much tried to run the entire lodge, requiring the tents to be triple locked. At the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, we stayed at the Safari Camp, where, looking out of the tent with my monocular, I could see elephants, zebras and giraffes in the distance from bed! Really, I never wanted to leave this place, but we had another stop at Maasai Mara, where the vervets were quite shy and only ran the children’s playground.
Nearly every place we went, the hosts graciously provided me with vegan meals. Almost everyday we were sent off with a picnic, returning to the lodges for lunch and dinner. The chefs at Chumbe, Rhino River Camp and Lewa Safari Camp served exceptional food at every meal. I was surprised to learn how important a role Indian curries and other dishes played in the cuisine. I was delighted when the Lewa chef humored my request to try ugali, a Kenyan cake made of cornmeal porridge. I really liked it.
In each place we stayed, I took at least one walk. In Meru, Edwin, Havana and I were joined by our new Maasai friend, Peterson (pictured above), on a walk, seeing natural beauty as well as intense poverty, addiction to a drug called khat, which is a local cash crop, and a naked mole rat digging its home. On the way from Meru to Samburu we stopped in Isiolo, a busting market town with an international feeling. Strolling past stalls it was interesting to see that there were multiple phone-charging businesses. Even though many people do not have electricity, many have cell phones! At Lewa we went on a guided hike in the forest with two rangers (one armed, just in case) for just the two of us. Our guides taught us about the forest animals and herbs and took us across a canopy walk 40′ in the air. Along the roadways between the lodge and forest, everyone was out in their Sunday best, heading to or from their local church. A Pentecostal revival tent was in full swing as we drove by.
When I was researching things online in preparation for our trip, I happened upon https://www.packforapurpose.org/, an organization that helps local groups, lodges and tourists coordinate delivery of needed supplies in developing countries. Lewa Safari Camp was on the website and I picked a couple of items from their wish list that I could cram into our luggage. We brought water color sets for budding artists and reusable menstrual kits that I pre-ordered at https://www.afripads.com/ and had delivered to me in Nairobi. For just $5.00, a girl has supplies for a year. The kits reduce waste and provide local employment. It wasn’t much, but it felt good to have something to share.
Local people were amazingly warm and kind everywhere we went. One of the most amazing parts of the journey was all of the wonderful people I met and the surprisingly deep conversations I had with relative strangers. Honest discussions about polygamy, homosexuality, tradition and modernity blew my mind. A Samburu tribesman, Chris, felt tradition was still holding strong among his pastoralist peoples; however, a Maasai man who went by “Chief” spoke of technology eroding the old ways. The traditions of the tribes go against much of what I believe in – gender roles are narrow and reliance on livestock is the basis of existence. Yet I found myself rooting for them despite my grieving for the animals and questioning the limits to individuality and free will.
I love talking with strangers when I travel and I made many new friends. Thank you to Marion, Lydia (both of them), Lazarus, Matata, J2, Peterson, Maurizio, Andrew, Esther and of course Edwin!
Our last day on the African continent, we flew back to Nairobi on a small plane. We had a room for the day at the historic Norfolk Hotel, but I am not one to miss anything when I am traveling, so I wandered out to take a walk. I will be honest: people seemed surprised to see me. There continue to be residual impacts of the colonial era and white tourists are generally steered to stay within the security of places intended for them. I walked on to the campus of the University of Nairobi after showing my ID and explaining why I was not with a guide and discovered many jubilant new grads in their caps and gowns. It was fun to congratulate them and see them beaming. A very friendly student named Horace approached me as he was crossing a lawn with a number of folks clearly ready to perform. It was the choir and he invited me to enter the tent where they would be singing during an orientation for new students. What a treat!
We finished out our final hours in Nairobi having tapas for lunch, checking out a mall and an international food and beverage shop. What a whirlwind. We’ve been back about a week and a half, but part of me is still in Africa. I really hope to go again.