Commencing Phase Four
I realised the other day that I had arbitrarily split our year long trip into four phases. These had nothing to do with time or dates, or even really with locations. A month in New Zealand was phase one, South/Central and North America was phase two, Middle East and Europe were phase three, then finally phase four was Africa and Asia. As we flew from almost a month in the UK, where we spent the holidays with old friends and family, towards Nairobi, Kenya, and I announced to Neil that we were commencing the final phase of the trip, as I had randomly dubbed it, we realised the sun was getting close to setting on our world tour.
Some one at a holiday party while we were in Scotland had said “Oh you’re heading home at the end of March? Trips almost over, huh?” I felt like asking him, when was the last time you had a three month holiday, mate? But in a way he’s right, but also way off base. While the majority of the trip is behind us, what is ahead of us is arguably going to be some of the biggest adventures of the trip so far.
Kenya was an incredible experience. We spent about 10 days there, staying with old friends who work in Nairobi for the US government. Or should I say, they currently “volunteer” for the US government until the shutdown finishes and they actually start getting paid again. Sam and Sarah, our friends, are among the few people we planned a big section of our trip around right from the beginning. Sam is actually one of my first ever boyfriends from when I was in high school, and while our relationship didn’t last, our friendship has grown stronger over time, being made all the richer with the addition of his wife Sarah and their two kids.
When you have a strong relationship with an ex-partner, it feels very weighty to introduce them to your new partner. For Sam and I this happened almost 10 years ago when I first met Sarah, and about 5 years ago, when Sam and Sarah first met Neil. I think Sam and I have both been tremendously relieved that not only do we adore each others partners, but they seem to like us both respectively, too. And while everyone already knew each other before this visit, it was especially great to hang out even more, spending quality time and getting to know each other even better.
When we first got to Nairobi, I felt that familiar travelling urge to go out and see as much as possible, tick some touristy boxes. But we quickly learned that getting around in Nairobi wasn’t going to be as easy as it was in other cities we’d been to on this trip. There was also the added factor of the terrorist attack while we were there, the lack of a public transport system that we could decipher, and traffic that made it difficult to travel just a few kilometres in under an hour… I started to rethink what I wanted to do. I realised that I was thinking about trying to see certain attractions just because I thought I should. What I really wanted was to bask in the company of my old friends, to soak up time with their kids while they were still young enough to think that playing with me is fun, not that I am just some silly weirdo. So most of our time in Nairobi was spent playing in the sandbox with Sam and Sarah’s three and a half year old, or sitting around with the grown ups, drinking beers and chatting until the wee hours of the morning (or as wee as the hours can get for people who have kids to take care of). One thing I loved was as we chatted more and more, trading stories and experiences, we realised that Sam and I are very similar in a lot of ways, and Sarah and Neil are too. It was clear that while Sam and I didn’t work out, maybe because we’re too alike, we’d each found the puzzle pieces that matched us, and probably for very similar reasons. It’s funny the way things work out.
We didn’t only sit around and sink beers though - even though that is one of my favourite activities in the world. Neil and I were lucky enough to be gifted a four day safari in the Masai Mara from my parents for Christmas. We didn’t think we were going to be able to afford to do a full safari, so we are extremely grateful they were able to make this happen for us. It was an absolutely remarkable experience. The drive out of Nairobi up to the Masai Mara, was about 7 hours, starting early in the morning. Once we left the main highway, the roads became really terrible, with no tarmac, basically just red clay. Through one section our guide explained that the Masai people who lived there would dig up the road running through their community, and when the rain would come and wash that loose section away, they would then clear a section of road through their own property so travellers could pass - for a fee. It was only a dollar here or there, but it made me realise that in our country where everyones comings and goings are scrutinised, there are other places in the world where things are just allowed to happen, and not all of them as innocuous as someone charging $1US to travel over their property for 5 meters.
The Masai Mara is such a rich and diverse ecosystem that within about 10 minutes of being inside the park, our guide spotted two cheetahs that had made a kill feeding on a warthog. We couldn’t get too close, but enough to see them licking their chops, all covered in blood. The Masai Mara is an open park without any fences, so the animals are free to roam as they please, including the wildebeest and zebra, who make their yearly great migration, through Kenya, over into Tanzania to the Serengeti. We saw over 27 different types of animals, and that’s just what I wrote down. We were lucky enough to see the whole ‘Big 5’, the safari checklist all over Africa, which includes buffalo, elephants, hippos, lions, and leopards. My favourite wasn’t any one particular animal, I just loved all the baby animals. Give me a baby elephant stumbling around with it’s trunk, a little fuzzy zebra foal, or a funny baby monkey that looks like an old man clinging to it’s Mumma, over a majestic male lion any day. Actually - you know what? Fuck male lions. I always knew that female lions (I don’t say comedienne, I’m not saying lioness) did all the hunting, but what I learnt on this trip was that after they make the kill, the male lions, who have done precisely NOTHING up until that point, chase the females away so that they can eat first, and the females and the young are only allowed back once the males have had their fill. I get that it’s nature and everything, but it’s just a bit of a kick in the guts to realise that misogyny extends into the animal kingdom too.
After Kenya, we flew to Delhi, India. I was full of nerves about India. Never having been here before, I was nervous about getting sick, and I feel like I had built up a picture of India in my mind that was made up of snatches I’d seen on the news and the final scene of Slum Dog Millionaire. I can already feel that I am going to have a lot to say about this country, but having only been here for 4 days so far, I don’t want to state my opinions too quickly. I’ll save that for my next post. Suffice it to say that I am liking it a lot more than I expected to, and I feel like there are surprises and delights around every corner.