Our Ethiopian Airlines flight out of Addis, which was nearly empty, was enjoyable, however expensive. In an interesting business plan, the government owned and funded Ethiopian Airlines has decided to fly Addis to Nairobi 6 times a week but clearly the demand is not even close to that, as our flight was maybe 10% full at best. This explains both why such a short flight ended up being so expensive, and why Ethiopian Airlines year after year loses far more money than it brings in. Just one of the many mysterious business practices that we fail to comprehend. Ethiopian Airlines is routinely awarded as Africa’s best performing airline, given the amount of the gross annual budget it eats up, it is indeed a generous and costly burden that the almost entirely bankrupt Ethiopian government chooses to shoulder for the convenience of countless aid workers and regional business men alike. Keeping in mind that 40% of the Ethiopian economy is made up of foreign aid, and that the country is almost entirely devoid of schools, hospitals or any transport infrastructure, the airline is a rather conspicuous priority for the government to continue to uphold. With all of that aside, we were very happy to see how green and lush the plains of Kenya looked as our plane got closer to Nairobi, a stark contrast to the somewhat dry and dusty landscapes of Ethiopia. In retrospect, Ethiopia ended up being by far the poorest and least developed country either of us had ever seen before.
Dans cousin Riz (aka Rizla), picked us up at the Nairobi airport and we could immediately tell that things were going to be different in Kenya. After not being in a private vehicle for many months, the simple joy of being picked up in a luxurious Land Rover, with air conditioning and self operating windows, as well as being on paved roads was almost too much for the weary travelers to bear. After a short stint through the horrendous Nairobi traffic we pulled into Riz’s first class gated community. We felt like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air as we rolled up to Riz’s crib (aka The Riz Carlton), set in palatial gardens with house staff and private chauffeur at our beck and call, topped off with a swimming pool and full workout gym, we took full use of the amenities to get some serious R&R. Riz didn’t waste any time getting us acquainted with the Nairobi night life, and we spent many glorious nights out on the town at our favourite haunt, Gypsys Bar. Gypsys was an interesting mix of upper class Kenyans; including Nairobis large Inidan population, the ever ubiquitous foreign volunteers and local prostitutes.
Within days Riz’s friends had set us up to go on a tour around Kenyas national parks, including the world renowned Masaai Mara Game Reserve, and LakeNakuruPark. The savannah grasslands of Kenya are absolutely teeming with wildlife, and although the rolling plains seemed like a bit of Saskatchewan back home, the sheer density and variety of the animals reminded us that we were nowhere near Regina. The animals move in the thousands in this area, and we could not believe what we were seeing at any given time. We were immersed into a world with Prides of lions wandering around, cape buffalos and giraffes all over the place, hippos bobbing up and down in the rivers, a lone slinking cheetah and literally hundreds of thousands of grazers moving like giant swarms of bees across the land. We were extremely lucky in Masaai Mara, seeing most of the famous animals of Africa including driving right through the middle of a giant group of 49 elephants. After our first drive through the park, we were pretty shocked to see that we were staying in small pup tents no more than 1 kilometer from a group of lions we had seen only minutes before heading to camp. Luckily we had an armed Masaai warrior keeping watch of us that night as we slept in our own individual tents. We were comforted by the fact that this man had personally killed a full grown lion when he was only 15 years old, armed with nothing but a spear. Fortunately this coming of age ritual is no longer practiced making our warrior friend a rare individual these days. Going to the bathroom at night was a bit hectic, as the sounds of the bush really become amplified then, as well as the fact that our headlamps attracted so many small insects that you can literally not breathe when its turned on in front of your face. At one point during the night we were woken by the commotion of a group of laughing Hyenas taking down an old Cape Buffalo, which itself is an extremely formidable animal. If nothing else, we were glad they had something to eat besides us.
From the Masaai Mara we headed up to Lake Nakuru, a somewhat putrid sulphur lake full of giggling gaggling Pink Flamingoes, the beauty of these amazing birds was marked by the distinct smell of their guano as the lake recedes during the dry season revealing a thick layer of it around the shore. This park is also one of the last holdouts of the extremely rare White Rhino. More than any other animal, the Rhino made us feel as if we were truly in Jurassic Park, and we managed to see 3 of them around that lake. At one point we had a very aggressive Baboon rush our truck and try to jump in one of the windows after we challenged him to a staring competition after being specifically told not to look him in the eyes. However the one animal we were unable to see in Kenya was the leopard, but this would change eventually when we got to Zambia later.
The sheer friendship of Riz and all his buddies that we met made us sad and a little reluctant to leave. But alas we got on board an all too familiar bus for a 14 hour drive across the border into Uganda. Although we didn’t get to see the most typical side of Kenyan life, it was a fascinating glimpse into the other side of Africa, where the privileged few rub shoulders at exclusive locales where a drink may cost more than the daily salary of the average labourer. It is as much a part of Africa as the usual poverty and suffering associated with the continent, and it offered us a much more holistic perspective of what must be one of the most diverse places on earth.