Greetings from Addis Ababa

Let’s see, left Nairobi for my camping safari which turned out to be brilliant. We visited Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, and Samburu, staying in organized campsites along the way which became more and more primitiveas the week progressed and we made our way  North. Absolutely amazing scenery, spectacular views of a tremendous amount of creatures, including a whole pride of lions (around 25) sleeping under some acacia trees, a cheetah lounging on a hill under a tree, a leopard stalking a zebra, enormous crocodiles, and herds of hippos — escorted down to the banks by men with big guns — given the croc and hippos propensity to
either try to eat or seriously maim juicy looking humans with cameras, herds and herds of elephants, every ungulate variation, both Maisai and reticulated giraffes, lots of strange and beautiful birds, Oryx’s and many more.

Visited the parks right after the rainy season, so the hills were green and every type of animal seemed to have a least 1 or 2 babies in the group. Lake Nakuru is incredible — a lake with a high soda content due to volcanic remains around the place, completely covered with pink and white flamingos. Thousands of them, making a deafening whirring noise, marching in troops of ten like some stately pink gentlemen regiments, all in step with their legs bending backwards. On one portion of the lake are 100′s of pink pelicans. The sandy area up to the shore teems with ungulates, and at one point we were about 10 feet from a white rhino.

The group was terrific, 1 Peace Corp volunteer taking the long way back from the Venetian Islands (sp?) in the South Pacific, 2 teachers, 1 woman from Belgium and 2 German biology students on their way back from a 5 week internship in the Katamango Forest (or whatever it’s called — I don’t have my Kenya book with me at the moment). Truck, of course broke down once — and the driver miraculously fixed the left front brake with twigs or something. Vervet monkey’s and Baboons generally hung out around camp, and at one point a vervet monkey entered a tent and stole a banana, peeled it, ate it and then left — while the occupant was shouting for her to leave.

After 6 days I was dropped in Isiolo, Kenya — complete with passport and Ethiopian Visa (I had left in Nairobi, somewhat skeptical about the safari company managing to pick up from Ethiopian Embassy and deliver to me in time — but hey it actually happened!). Isiolo is something of a “frontier” town — and I’m pretty convinced I was the first white person seen in a long time. Upon leaving my hotel (if you can call it a hotel) to try to organize a truck to Moyale, I was immediately mobbed by “local tour guides” young men who essentially try to extract cash for information. Managed to get rid of all of them except one, who I eventually had to shout at, after he knocked on my “hotel room” door, wanting to find me a seat on a truck the next day.

Wound up organizing through the “hotel” but it was still a very clandestine and chaotic operation. Was taken from my room at 4am by a shady character named “Steven”, who escorted me down the very dark streets to the spots where the trucks congregated prior to forming convoys, picking up armed guards etc. I was pointed to my truck in which I had a “seat” which turned out to be a real cattle transporting truck, loaded with bags of sugar. Managed to scale the 20ft side with small backpack and fling up big pack only to find myself staring into a pitch black cavern.

Convinced i was plunging into some extremely unsafe situation, I stopped everything, dug out my flashlight and was very happy to see a woman and child, amongst the various men sleeping to save their “spots.” Then Steven appeared of course demanding a tip so I gave him 100ksh — he disgustedly handed it back — mumbling something about 600 — my transport only cost 700. I pretty much said ok nothing then, and pretended he was just being helpful and profusely thanked him for his assistance. He eventually took the 100ksh.

The truck, of course didn’t actually leave until around 7a this time filled with people in the “cargo area” and sitting on the bars on top. We stopped at the police checkpoint, collected a few more men with guns and a couple of tanks and proceeded North up the worst road in Africa. Major “highway” connecting Kenya with Ethiopia, however, it’s not paved and is barely a dirt path in some areas, armed guards are due to occasional attacks by armed bandits.

It quickly become clear that the boxes of shortcake, cooking oil, and unnaturally colored juice, along with the luggage (mostly plastic bags stuffed with clothing, and burlap bags of potatoes, a few cabbages and various other odd items)that we were leaning against were really missiles lying in wait to be flung by the jostling truck at my and everyone else’s head. Actually jostling isn’t the right word, more like lurching, and occasionally flying truck. Managed to reorganize boxes hanging from bars using my feet to kick, along with clinging to sides while forcing boxes/luggage back to a safe distance. Made friends with my fellow passengers at that point. Although no one really spoke any English and my Swahili wasn’t really conversational.

The trip took a good 12 hours the first day. After about 6 hours I climbed up to the top and took my chances perching on a metal bar about 2 inches in diameter and a good 30ft off of the ground, wound up with a very sore bum, but the view was incredible.

The road took us through the Dida Galgalu and Kaisut Deserts, past villages of Samburu, Rendille and Gabbra tribes — all arrayed traditional dress which colors contrasted spectacularly with the desert landscape. When night fell a million stars came out (at this point the boys on top with me had given me the most comfortable seat a flat surface which only had one disadvantage which was the constant brushing against this large trees with 2 in thorns — my legs were dangling of the side — I got very good at the swing and tuck method to avoid getting severely injured), and 1 man sitting in the very front started singing a Samburu song, as we hurtled through the star studded darkness. One of those absolutely exceptional experiences.

We arrive in Marsabit where we stayed for the night, and I actually met a few foreigners. Well 2 to be exact. 1 Australian riding a motorcycle North to South — wanting to know about the road (hah!), and a Chinese anthropology student who had just finished living with a Rendille tribe for 2 years who was also heading to Ethiopia. He had been waiting 3 days for transport to arrive.