Photos: Zebras are awesome

Just outside Nairobi — a modern city with skyscrapers and major traffic — sits protected African savanna, where zebras and giraffes and rhinos and lions pose for local tourists and Wazungu who don’t have the time or money to visit the big game parks and reserves.

It’s about as wild as you can get, with a major urban center half an hour away.

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A Nairobi night: incongruous and awesome

A short note. Last night at a Nairobi bar I was:

  • staring on and off into a fireplace with a chimney painted like a giraffe
  • listening to American hip hop (a CD I burned) blared over the stereo
  • talking with a German couple
  • occasionally reading a book about failed Norwegian attempts to help the Turkana
  • eating a Mexican pizza
  • drinking East African (Kenya/Uganda) beer

Incongruous? Yes. Awesome? Absolutely.

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Welcome to Wal-Mart…er… Nakumatt

Nakumatt is the Kenyan version of Wal-Mart. It’s everything you need, in bright clean aisles — food, clothing, bicycles, motorcycles, cheese graters, camping gear, stoves, refrigerators, hair gel (the mohawk is going strong).

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Train to Kisumu offers brief glimpse of rural Kenya

After three days largely kicking back in Nairobi, I took the overnight train west to Kisumu, which is Kenya’s third largest city. It’s a clean, warm, charming city, with a decent expat community on the shores of Lake Victoria. But it’s hardly a tourist haven (I was one of only three foreigners on the 15-hour train ride.) and feels more laidback, authentic and safe than Nairobi.

I’ve come to Kisumu principally to meet up with Shannon, who has been here for several weeks working on public health projects. It was Shannon who convinced me to include a stop in Africa before heading to India.

The train is a throwback to transportation decades ago — old, worn compartments, vinyl seats, lights and fans that don’t work. Dinner was served on china and 15 minutes into the ride, an attendant came to neatly unfurl bedding and wool blankets in each berth.

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Other travelers, cards, beer make for great conversation

Meet Steve, a wandering Brit, who beat me at everything we tried — Rummy, Scrabble, Nomination Whist and Hearts. (I challenged in Scrabble and Hearts, but couldn’t quite come through.)

Steve is a 24-year-old former science and math teacher who spent the last months in Africa, climbed Kilimanjaro, headed home to England last night and will head to South America next week. He uses the phrase “cool beans” repeatedly  and describes many things as “cheeky.”

He taught me a fantastic drinking game — Tell Her — and a great new word: Fitty (no, not slang for fifty).

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24 hours in Kenya

Arrival in Kenya was sleep and uneventful. The hotel is charming and quaint — what appears to be an old manor house set on high-walled grounds. The first night I stayed in a permanent tent, built on a wooden floor with an indoor bathroom and electricity. Today, I moved to what were probably once servant quarter — a spartan room with a shared bath.

The morning was spent doing a bit of shopping — cell phone, blank CDs, a beer — and attemtping to reconnect with the world. I also took a few casual photos — nothing fancy — with the point-and-shoot Canon.

A few notes to explain the photos:

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In Dubai, found WiFi, Google is in Arabic

I’m really tired so excuse my rambling and poor grammar.

I just stepped off the plane to the steamy airport in Dubai for a three-hour layover, found my gate and hopped on a decent WiFi hotspot. So much for going dark, and here’s to hoping this connection is reasonably secure.

The airport here is very shiny. Witness the picture below:

Myriad cultures, juxtaposed on a shiny stage

Myriad cultures, juxtaposed on a shiny stage

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Itinerary for the next year or so

My itinerary is still a bit up in the air. I’m trying to be flexible on purpose, but here’s the basic rundown, if the dates as a little (or a lot) squishy.

  • September 3. Fly Chicago to New York to Dubai to Nairobi. I’ll have a couple weeks in and around the Kenyan capital playing with Shannon, adjusting and touring/chatting/shooting in the slums of Kibera.
  • Approximately September 20. Fly/overland to Dar es Salaam. I’ll be checking out on a number of conservation projects that will take me across the border into Tanzania and eventually the coastal city.
  • Approximately October 1. Fly to Antananarivo. Madagascar sits at the top of my Places to Visit list (after I knocked off Cuba this spring) and I plan visits to plant science and conservation efforts as well as fun-time with lemurs, butterflies and maybe a titanium mine.
  • Approximately October 11. Head back to Nairobi. Finish up leftovers; possibly head east to Mombasa for a few days or west to Kisumu. Also contemplating a trip up north near the border with Somalia.
  • October 21. Fly to Bombay. Begin visits related to U.S. companies there; planning efforts re: Monsanto, Anheuser-Busch and others. Also planning an early trip to Delhi.
  • November 27. Train to Palolem, a tiny beach village in India. R&R.
  • December 5. Back to Pune for a family visit. Mom, Anna, Riley and Ravi are planning a stop.
  • Approximately December 14. Begin winding trip to Port Blair in the Andamans for five year anniversary of crushing tsunami. Hoping for an ocean voyage and crazy good beach and journalism scenes.
  • Approximately January 10. Return to Pune area to pick up on previous visits with U.S. companies.
  • April 1. Fly to Bangkok to eat food. Possibly take a few days down to Phuket.
  • April 9. Return to Bombay. Begin trek up to Sikkim.
  • April 14. Volunteer teaching at small elementary school in Sikkim, a northern part of India sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan.
  • June 14. Head back south for monsoons in central India. Evaluate bank account and goals.

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Kenya, not just for safaris

I get asked regularly: Why Kenya?

I head there September 3 for so many reasons: Because I’ve never been to Africa. Because a great friend Shannon is doing NGO work there. Because of this place. And, most importantly, because Africa’s stable gem is full of stories boiling beneath the surface.

The NYT’s Jeffrey Gettleman has a great story about why the world’s eyes are (or should be) watching Kenya.

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