May 27, 2013

The answer, always

It's Monday night of my last real week at work, which is really just a half-week.  Come Thursday I'll be landing in Cape Town to start a 6-week overland camping trip from South Africa back up to Nairobi.  As such, this is probably my last post from Kenya for a bit (unless I get ambitious tomorrow), though I'll be doing my best to keep you all (Hi, Mom and Dad) updated along this next journey.

So, gosh, what to write about for the quasi-last post?

I could show you a picture I finally took of that monkey on my sidewalk.  Talk about why Lamu town is more charming than people give it credit for.  Post images of my legs and let you all vote on whether they're riddled with mosquito or bedbug bites.  But I think the best way to go is with turtles.

Because we all know that the answer, always, is Turtles- all the way down.

I just returned from a lovely long-weekend in Lamu, where (as is apparently my custom) I didn't plan a single detail of the trip.  But luckily one of my companions knew that it was turtle-hatching season.  So, hurrah!

Along with the other 10 muzungu tourists on the island that weekend, we started with a pleasant boat trip through the mangroves, out to Manda Island.


The Lamu archipelago is made up of several islands- Lamu, Manda, Pate, and perhaps another.  Manda is the one from which the disabled French lady was kidnapped by Somali pirates in 2011, and subsequently the reason I was never able to visit on my last trip.  But please don't let that color your impressions.  Manda really is quite lovely.  


Goat tracked beach

 The turtle NGO (I left the brochure back at the hotel and forgot the name), employs ex-poachers to identify nests that are ripe for hatching (mounds of sand that are marked with two sticks).  In the wild, turtles hatch from their eggs under the sand mound and then take about a day to crawl their way to the surface.  It NGO world, the turtles hatch like usual, and then the handlers help dig them out so they can walk a red-carpet runway to the ocean with tourist paparazzi. 

The turtles most definitely did not stay within the prescribed runway

And thus I pronounce you FREE!

They leave the nest in a pretty uniform fashion.

AaaaaaaAway they go!


But it becomes chaos pretty swiftly, in an each-turtle-for-himself dash for the ocean.  Turtles racing each other, flipping over, getting stuck in beached seaweed, going in the wrong direction... Having seen all this, it's not surprising that most of them die when they get in the water.  Not the best instincts.  

Almost there...

Oh no... that's not the ocean!

Not the most flattering picture (hello, new bangs), but provided for scale.  Baby sea turtles are TINY.

Finally, with a few redirections and heroic rescues by the handlers, all of the 60 babies in this nest reached the water.  Probably about 10 will survive the first week.  

Turtles beyond turtles, all the way down to the foam

 And on that bittersweet note, I'll say "Kwaheri Kenya."  At least for the next 6 weeks.

May 11, 2013

You know, superlatives

A little while ago I was walking home from work when I came across a colobus monkey sitting on the sidewalk a few blocks from my apartment.  And the first thought to cross my mind was not: Wow, a monkey!, as you might expect, but rather: Wow, what nice sidewalks!  

You see, well-paved, pothole-free sidewalks that don't have cars driving on them are more rare than monkeys.  Especially around my house, where the roads had almost necessitated 4-wheel-drive when I first moved here in 2011.  I never really knew how exciting fresh asphalt could be.  

Sure, I'd probably point out a monkey on the sidewalk to a friend, but no tears would be shed if it ran away before she got to see it.  Kind of like a brightly plumaged blue-jay in the back yard.  You might say, hey, come look at this nice bird, but there wouldn't be any urgency to the suggestion.  

But it's still not every day that you see a senior scaling the columns of her house to hand-feed them bananas.  That's still special.   

And that's what we saw when we drove out to Limuru to spend an afternoon at the Kiambethu Tea Farm.  Tea, like flowers, is one of Kenya's biggest exports.  Whenever my boss visits Kenya, he's conscripted to return home to Vietnam with bundles of tea for his family and Kenyan friends.  Wikipedia even says that Kenya is "the leading producer of the best black tea in the word," and that "Kenyan tea [is] the most sought after beverage in the world."  So, you know, superlatives.  And internet.  

Kiambethu apparently used to be one of the largest tea farms in Kenya, but has been pared down and sold away through the course of generations.  It's still operational, but only in small quantities.  They generate additional revenue by hosting tours and luncheons on their grounds.  

Kiambethu house

Tree tomatoes growing in the gardens

The afternoon begins with tea and biscuits (naturally), served with fine silver.  Then everyone sits around a warm living room, passing around fresh tea leaves and examining different sizes and textures of dried tea and and tea dust.  

Good tea, mediocre biscuits

Six shades of tea dust

After that, everyone goes outside to look at the monkeys for a while.  Then they look at the lady (granddaughter of the original farm owner) breaking bread (bananas) with said monkeys.  


Then there's some walking around the tea farm, lookin at geese, and exploring a swath of indigenous forest before returning back to the house for a home-cooked lunch in the garden.   

Tea grows in Kenya

Twisty trees

Garden lunch

So what's the final verdict?  If you're interested in tea and looking for an easy day-trip outside of Nairobi, Kiambethu Tea Farm is a solid option.  However, not recommended quite as highly as an afternoon at Brown's Cheese Farm, also in Limuru.  While tea and cheese are both delicious, the house and grounds at Brown's are a bit more lovely, and they're a bit less stingy with their wine.  

May 3, 2013

Perhaps it's time

The city of Nairobi (and by extension I think I can safely assume the entire country of Kenya) has run out of Nutella.  

That's right.  It's a country completely dry of delicious chocolate-hazelnut spread.  

Perhaps it's time to start thinking about leaving.

Off to more chocolately pastures! 
(Incidentally, I think that's the Ngong Hills we're flying over)