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Monday, September 27, 2010

Kenya Reminiscing - Part 3

Up The Mountain

It seemed to me that our holiday itinerary was planned around some sort of "changing geographical features" motif. The reason I say this is that we started off in the "mara" which was dry grassland, then moved to Lake Nakuru which was a lot more green and approaching a more humid, tropical climate, and now, we were beginning our ascent up a smooth gradient to Mountain Lodge situated kind of high up in the mountains (7200 feet, I just checked), but with a most majestic view of Mount Kenya. At this point I would like to point out that until now, I've been talking about the view of Mt. Kilimanjaro...it turns out, however, that the mountain we were looking at was Mount Kenya, a close 2nd behind Kilimanjaro for the title of Tallest Mountain in Africa...but no less impressive, let me tell you. I guess the passage of time, as well as the idiot-romantic gene caused me to convolute my memories into a fairytale, one in which I was at the foothills of Kilimanjaro and saw pigs fly.

As we made our ascent, we were met with eager groups of children who waved and screeched with excitement as we drove by, very much like on our way to Lake Nakuru. In the same way, they would burst out into peals of laughter when we waved back or stuck our heads out of the window to say "Hello." The big difference was that whereas we may have seen the odd pair of children going to school, or a machete-wielding farmer who suddenly looked up and waved at us -- made slightly menacing because of the long blade he was waving hello at us with -- today, on our way to Mountain Lodge, we saw swathes of children crowding the roadsides, all impeccably dressed, and being herded around by a couple of stern-looking adults. Samuel, our trusty guide, brought to our attention the fact that it was Sunday, and that people were on their way to church. So that was why they were all dressed up. It was a sight to remember because of all the smiling faces that seemed so happy to see us. 

Now, somewhere along this journey we made a startling discovery about a momentous feat we were about to unwittingly accomplish - crossing the Equator. It wasn't a whole lot. There was a sign that said that a particular point in the road was the Equator, there was a curio shop by the side of said road, and not a whole lot of fanfare about it otherwise. I guess I was expecting trumpets and confetti, at the very least. But, I suppose that would get really old really fast. Anyway, I think my dad took a picture of me for the sake of recording this what-we-thought-was-rather-important-until-now act.

Mountain Lodge

We must have driven for another couple of hours, when the road got real steep all of a sudden. Only briefly was this the case, but before we were able to sit up and took notice of the incline, we were already through the gates of "Serena Mountain Lodge". It was, and I have to say this, one of the most unassuming hotels I can remember. Don't get me wrong, there were millions of cool things about it, but again it wasn't an OMG-kinda reaction. For example, the whole hotel was built on wooden stilts. "WOW" right? But, one didn't know that until one left the parking lot, which once I realized it, was in itslef baffling how they managed to hide it. And, there were raised wooden walkways to walk on, kind of in the lower branches of the trees, to reach the main building. Every 30-50 feet there were little booth-like enclsoures that allowed guests to sit and watch the birds and any other animals that inhabited these trees. After a stop-and-start stroll, we reached the hotel proper, and I was immediately struck by a sign that, well technically, prohibited children below the age of 2 to be brought to the hotel. That seemed, and probably will seem a little bit stringent to those who don't realize the major reason for the hotel to be built in the first place; people like me, for example. Mountain Lodge was built as a way for people to observe wild animals as closely as possible, from the vantage points offered by their balconies and viewing galleries. So, it made sense to not have children who were prone to fits of crying in the hotel, in case they suddenly felt the urge to raise hell and scared all the animals off. Now, that this rule was not enforced was the reality of the situation, which made it kind of annoying when the entire hotel found out the hard way that someone had a baby in the hotel that was determined to not let anyone get any sleep the entire night. Now, on the far end of all the rooms, the side with the balcony, there was a manmade watering hole, the centre of attention for all the guests because many wild animals frequented it, offering some great photo opportunities. Most impressively, in my eyes, there was a subterranean passage with a viewing gallery that had a small viewing window at ground level. What that meant was, guests were right at muzzle level to the animals as they craned their necks downwards to get a drink from the watering hole. It would have made for a fabulous set of photos because of this amazing vantage point, if only one of the occupants didn't find it in his confused little heart to let out the loudest sneeze that I had felt at close range.

Another interesting thing about Mountain Lodge, as far as the overall holiday was concerned was that there was a dinner with our driver/guide Samuel at the hotel that had been worked into the program. I was thrilled, and kind of surprised it wasn't the norm, so to speak. Still, in spite of the time spent in the vehicle, where Samuel had to pay attention to the road ahead, and we were taking in the sights, having a nice quiet dinner afforded us the opportunity to sit back and catch up about things. The conversation ranged from Samuel telling us about his family, to talking about how things were different from Kenya to India, to how there was a significant and rather affluent Indian population in Kenya (the tour company was run by Indians, if I didn't mention that earlier) to a topic that ended up having a hilarious real-life twist to it. In the course of conversation, my dad happened to comment that, at the risk of sounding racist, he couldn't really tell the difference between members of the different tribes of Kenya, which, he added, was probably the case with the local inhanbitants when they looked at us. At this, Samuel, not quite offended but still a little worked up, took it upon himself to go on a long tirade, providing example after example of how he could tell which part of India people like us were from, based in some part by the way the ladies dressed, or even the language they spoke, if they happened to speak it around him. He continued with how if people would take just a little more time to notice subtle differences like variations in the shape of the crown of the head, or the slightly heightenend brow of some people for example, that they could see the differences easily. Samuel ended up ranting himself parched, at which point he looked up, glanced around, spotted a waiter resetting the table next to ours, and spoke to him in Swahili, ordering a drink I supposed. He then turned back to my father and me to continue where he had left off, but the waiter didn't move. No, he stood frozen for a few seconds before he finally approached Samuel and said, "I'm sorry sir. I am a Hotel Management exchange student from Namibia, and I didn't understand what you said. I don't speak Swahili."

"HA HA HA...!!!" started my dad, who until this happened was feeling most guilty for being a potential racist, or at least for being painted as one by Samuel.

I believe that was the end of that and any further serious conversation that night. We quietly ate our meals, heads bowed as if in some ghastly ritual that involved group mediation and food. Samuel, on his fourth beer -- he had just a little while earlier mentioned that he never had more than one beer a night -- was trying to drown his most recent short-term memories as quickly as possible. My father, big smile on his face, was enjoying his food and feeling oh-so smug about life in general. Me? I was sure I could hear a baby crying somewhere, dammit!

Keeping An Eye Out

At the end of our meal, just as we were about to leave the table, a man in green fatigues came over to our table and handed my dad a form. On this form, there were names of wild animals of all kinds with checkboxes next to them. The green-fatigued man explained that he was the "Night Game Watcher" and that it was his job to wake us up if any of the animals we had ticked on the form happened to show up at the watering hole during the night. My dad thought this was cool. I was kind of concerned that it was either a bit exploitative, or an affirmative action kind of job that was just some guy in a suit probably dozing off in a corner somewhere. My dad indicated that there were a few animals that he hadn't seen yet and would like to see. I was ready to bust out the "Do Not Disturb" sign. Either way, the night was uneventful and I got more than my fair share of sleep. My dad woke me up to tell me to get up and get ready because we were about to head back to the capital, Nairobi, for our last day on this trip. I sat up, eyes bleary, and smiled on the inside. Sure the trip was coming to an end. But, I wouldn't have had it any other way at all, no matter how many times I relived this moment.
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