Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kenya - Hakuna Matata!

Here are a few memorable moments from my trip to Kenya:

1) The street vendors. In Kenya, a stop at any traffic light meant dealing with the street vendors. The street vendors will surround you like flies surrounding a carcass and try to make you buy a circular piece of aluminum wiring for 20 dollars. Or worse, once he realizes you won't pay anything for it, he will try to trade you his supply of goods for the elastic rubber band around your wrist. This makes you suddenly wonder if your 2 cent rubber band may actually be more precious than, say, a gold bar. In the end, however, you are so adamant about not giving into these pushy vendors, that you wouldn't trade that damn rubber band in for a diamond bracelet.

However, I did give in to the vendors who appealed to my keen business sense (which consists of Chapter 1 of 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' and season 1 of the Apprentice). The following street vendor tactics impressed me the most:

  • No matter what they're selling, from paintings and figurines to bottled water, they will claim that "they've made it themselves".
  • Some of them argued that buying their goods would bring about social change and promote the culture. When they paired that line with "I made this myself", I folded like a deck of cards and bought that piece of wire for $5.00
  • Some of the tourist shops would have attached workshops where the local artists seemingly carved and sanded half-made sculptures to further lure you into the idea of hand-made crafts. In a candid moment, when they had thought all the tourists had left and they hadn't accounted for my overactive bladder, I watched them promptly drop the sculptures and have a loud debate about FC Barcelona vs Manchester United.

2) Lion King. During the entire trip, the "Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata" took turns playing in the back of my mind. The fact that my entire knowledge of Kenya peaked at Disney's Lion King was, both, acutely embarrassing and unforgivable.

3) The red-colored cocktail that I drank, which (unknown to me until later) had beets in it that proceeded to stain the next 3 days of my bowel movements an angry red, which, in turn, resulted in one of the most dramatic showdowns between me, WebMD, and the local medic.

4) Remembering the exciting Cheetah chases and violent kills that you watched at the National Geographic channel, and then comparing those to the dozing, half-bored/half-annoyed cheetah lying 4 feet from you and wondering why this magnificent creature reminded you of your grandma's house cat.

You patiently wait for the cat to wake from its nap. Twenty minutes later, when the most active part of the afternoon was to watch the cheetah yawn and pee at the nearest tree, you wonder if that cheetah would give a damn if you had thrown an impala right near his paws.

I'm a vicious killer, but the sun can hurt my eyes

Sleeping with paws up in the air...nice


5) People and their cameras. I had already been warned that I would get camera envy, especially since most of the tourists carried lenses as long as my leg. Meanwhile, my camera was a digital point-and-shoot. When I realized I was more concerned about capturing a great picture than enjoying the scene unfold in front of me, I put my camera away and just watched everything through my binoculars.

Later, I exchanged email addresses with the guy who had the longest lens (Yes, I intentionally worded it this way) and asked to exchange pictures with him. At first, he regarded my camera with skepticism, but then agreed when I told him I had some exciting, albeit blurry, shots of Big Foot. The joke's on him of course, since not only is there no Big Foot in Kenya (we all know Big Foot lives in the Himalayas along with the Dalai Llama and Brad Pitt), but these pictures of Big Foot that I took were actually images of my mom at the buffet table during lunch. The camera's shutter speed was no match for her greed.

6) "Kill-Butt", the friendly hotel manager at Samburu. "Your name is Kill-Butt?" I asked him, instantly admiring everything about him, and he smiled in acknowledgement.

I went to Kill-Butt for everything, from setting up a fan and an extra bed in the hotel room to breaking down and weepily admitting my debilitating addiction to the "Hot in Cleveland" TV series. Later, when I wanted to mention Kill-butt on the hotel's feedback form, I asked him to spell his name. He nudged his jacket aside to reveal a name tag that said "Gilbert". I secretly nursed my feelings of 'dumbassyness' for days, thereafter,

7) The women. From the cheerful waitress at Samburu to the dignified Gift Shop lady at Nakuru, the women of Kenya displayed a wealth of knowledge, wit and potential that far surpassed their male counterparts.

8) Lake Nakuru with its stunning plethora of birds, white rhinos and black water buffalos. My van consisted of six women, including me. When the van took the final turn to reveal the lake, we broke into excited exclamations and jabbering that rivaled a noisy hair salon. Eric, our exasperated driver, had to actually say "Calm down, ladies, just calm down."

Lake Nakuru with its pink flamingos

9) My new Group On friends. Our entire group consisted of 30 people, from honeymoon couples to aunts and nieces, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and a few lone rangers, who were all put together because of their common, impulsive decision to buy a vacation package through Group On.

10) The leopard. Leopards are impossible to spot during game drives. We looked fervently for 7 days and then we decided to give up. On the last morning, when we were driving out of Masai Mara, one of the girls in the jeep, Jessica, suddenly said "Wait. What's that on that tree?"
"It could be another log, like last time," one of us chimed in.
Then the log turned its head towards of us and we realized it was a magnificent leopard. We all screamed in delight, which was enough motivation for the leopard to effortlessly jump down 30 feet and slink away into the forest.

It all happened so fast that only one of us caught his picture. It's a faraway shot and we can only see the cat's silhouette. But it was apt, because the leopard is just that elusive.