for November, 2008

words unfolding

Rafting & Rock Climbing :)

We have just returned from our 3 day trip to a camp that is run by a company called Savage Wilderness Safari. We weren’t sure what our rafting trip would entail and it ended up being a bit different than expected but absolutely wonderful. The company runs adventure trips for the British Military, Tourists, Corporations and schools. They have a camp setup with bunkhouses, tents and a cottage. They run two trips a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You can choose from rafting, climbing, or mtn biking.

We arrived and we were there with a group of 40 british army men and two women. The camp hosts were great as well as the guides. That afternoon we loaded up in a shuttle bus and headed to the Tana river to run a stretch of river that is about 10-12km. We were so excited we had a hard time containing our excitement. There was 5 paddle rafts total as some of the army guys had been drinking and weren’t allowed to go. We started the trip in an NRS boat that was built in ’96. Em and I were up front, followed by 4 guys and James the son of the owner our guide.

The river is a muddy lightbrown color surrounded by the greenest vegetation. We start out on small class one ripples with small tall grassy islands as obstacles to move around. I look over at Em and we both have huge smiles on our faces – we are rafting in Kenya!!

The guide goes through the command and I’ve learned a new one called, “get down” which is for everyone to move their bodies from sitting up on the side tubes to a sort of kneel down on the floor of the boat. My first thought was, why would we ever really need to “get down,” aren’t we always going to need to “paddle through” stuff? Then our first big rapid came and at the top I could see the bottom through a maze of “z’s” quite a few feet below from where we started. I thought, hmmm, I wonder if there is going to be a “get down” somewhere through this. We started descending and manuevering around sharp and smooth black volcanic rock around holes and through them. As we were approaching the last part I thought, holy crap that’s a big drop with a huge hole at the bottom followed by a good size wave. We heard the call “paddle forward hard for 2…..get down!” We slid and bumped down this pore over and got soaked at the bottom. Em & I high fived and I think I might have said, Hell Yeah. We had just made it through our first class 4 rapid, and it was indeed a class 4.

We watched as the others made it down and we eddied out to river left. We were facing the falls and watching as the water was spraying up and reflecting in the sunlight. James then said “all forward easy” as we headed back towards the rapid and falls we just came down. I said, what are we doing and he said, we’re going to “surf” in that hole. My first thought is, outfitters just don’t do these kinds of things in the states, but perhaps I’m wrong, I hope that we are safe. I knew the odds of some of us falling out or the whole boat flipping was pretty high. I was really too excited to be worried so I paddled on. As we got closer to the edge of the hole and waterfall we paddled harder as we headed straight into the side of the whole into the pour over. The boat was being tossed all about and filling up with so much water, it was hard to see with all the splash. The boat turned towards the right and within a second the left front tube where I was sitting got sucked under and water flushed on top of us and me and the guy behind me were out of the boat so fast I had no time to try and hold on. We were flushed out under the boat and came up to the surface pretty quickly. The river pushed us nicely all the way near shore where we climbed out both still with our paddles in hand.

We were both laughing and saying how much fun that just was and wanted to do it again. We rafted this stretch of river twice and each time I think our boat surfed about 7-9 times. It was rare for us to have all passengers left in the boat by the time we got flushed out. If ever I felt the need to get good practice falling out of a boat and swimming, I’m now an expert. The first day our very last surf we all piled into the front compartment with only 2 behind the first thwart. We wanted to see if we could get the front of the boat down into the hole and have it flip the back of the boat flip up and over. We succeeded! Em and I were actually sitting in the front compartment with our knees over the thwart while the four guys and guide paddled around us. Within 8 seconds of surfing the weight and water sucked the front of the boat down under and we all went swimming. I came up looked around and saw our guide getting is flip line rigged to flip our raft over which was upside down heading down river.

That was definitely the most fun part of the river stretch, but overall it was really beautiful and amazing. There were several really big class 4 rapids, one we portaged around while just the boats went through and then some smaller class 3’s and 2’s. The Tana river is long and comes out of Mt. Kenya, there are many hippos and crocks on the Tana river, but not on the stretch of river we ran. I never fully trusted the no big wildlife so I always had my eyes open, just in case. I couldn’t believe I was rafting through volcanic rock with Palm trees and farming communities along the banks of the river. Little kids would run down to the river and scream towards us probably thinking, “muzungu’s are crazy.”

The next day we decided to go climbing in the morning and rafting in the afternoon. I actually wasn’t feeling well, and decided to just go for the ride and take pictures. The drive was only about 15 minutes where we got out and started walking down a trail. I couldn’t ever see any rock so I was wondering how far we’d have to hike to get where we were going. Right away we had about 4 Kukui children running down the path after us. After just a short while I heard a roaring/rushing sound and thought, there must be a river down here. I was in the back taking photos and started talking to the little girl. She spoke a little english and I asked if there was a river, and she lifted her eyebrows in response, which we’ve come to learn as “yes.” In fact, Emily does this all the time now when I ask her questions, she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it until I start laughing.

We headed down the burnt sienna red dirt trail as it headed down into a gorge lined with huge boldering rock with a river running through it. Up to the right there was a damn and the water was pushing down stream very forcefully. We got near the bottom and I was SOOOO glad I came just for the ride, it was one of the prettiest places we’d been in Kenya, and we’ve seen soooo many already.

It was around 9:30am and the light was still good, so I took some photos as Emily climbed around (bouldered) a rock face. The others had gone to the otherside so she has this face all to herself. At first I was in charge of watching all the random gear left in a pile so the little fingers that were hanging about didn’t walk away with anything. It’s really tough cuz these kids are so poor and have nothing, but it’s not good to just give them things either cuz they all expect it and will steal for it if given the chance. I took some photos, but wish I could show you now just how ripped, old, and dirty these kids clothes were and none of them had shoes. We watched as they used and old glass liquor bottle to fill up the brown river water and drink it. The youngest kid was about 15-17 mths and she mostly hung out on her brothers lap or back. Emily and I are amazed at how much kids here take care of themselves and also how resilent they are – it really makes me think that we have gone too soft on our children in the States.

In the end I started feeling much better so I borrowed emily’s shoes, helmet, and harness and climbed my first real rock wall. I did several climbs with a belayer below making sure if I slipped, I wouldn’t fall and get hurt. It was really fun, and something I would like to do more when I go home.

It was really enjoyable at the camp where we got to stay in our our cottage in the biggest bed we’ve ever slept on. The mattress was a piece of foam so they could make it any size they wanted. You could have slept 3 super comfortably with 4 no problem. It had a huge canopy mosquito net, which gave such a cool feeling under it on this huge bed. Around the camp for the first time in Kenya we were surrounded by about 5 dogs that were pets, so I got a lot of puppa petting in :)

Our only negative experience was at about midnight last night there was a bunch of drunk military guys jumping into the pool naked that was below our cottage. Two of them decided to come to the cottage and try to get us to get up and come out. Our door was just a big piece of iron metal work and thank goodness we had run the chain and padlock through because they kept trying to get in. I asked them twice to leave with no avail, and then suddenly they left.

In the morning their captains had found out about it and came to ask us what level of punishment we wanted for them. We told them that they had intimitated us and that we thought that was completely inappropriate behavior for a soldier. We asked them to do what they thought was appropriate but that we didn’t want their military careers ruined. Emily and I then got apologies from the two soldiers a first for us both and hopefully a last. They spent the morning digging and sholving dirt for the camp, and we aren’t sure what other punishments will come their way.

Well, this is long post and covers most of the excitement of the last 2 full days, so I should wrap it up. We are heading to Tanzania tomorrow to go to the Ngorogoro crater, we then will try to head back into Kenya to Mombassa (the coast) and then finally back to Nairobi for a few days before we fly home. I’m started to feel sad that our journey is closing in on us fast. By last week I finally felt like I was getting into the groove here and feeling really comfortable where ever we went. I thought it might happen that I wouldn’t want to leave and it is slowly becoming reality.

I hope all is well with everyone and hope to post from the town of Arusha in the next few days. Emily and I are doing really well, but miss everyone back home too.

Till next time….


Posted on November 26, 2008 by Keli · 3 comments Read More
words unfolding

just another day in…*psst* (where are we?)

We just rolled in to Nairobi after 2.5 weeks ‘living the dream’ in masai mara. The 5 hour matatu ride, however, felt like 10 hours as most of the red dirt roads are unpaved and full of potholes. I’m still vibrating. The law dictates that Kenyans learn to drive on the left side of the road, but this means nothing in actual life, especially for your average matatu driver who probably has window decals, flashing disco lights, and music videos distracting him from what’s happening outside his sheet metal bread box on wheels. What an adventure we were laughing, then crying almost the whole way to Nairobi.

Although i’m happy to be continuing on our journey my soul felt heavy as masai mara escaped from view. 2.5 weeks doesn’t sound as long now as it did the night we arrive on the mara. We set up our blue sierra designs tent outside Ombati’s house as curious neighbors and masai milled around the spaceship worrying that elephants or hyenas would take advantage of our humble abode. We later learned that they only believed the tent was for our luggage anyways and that we were married to Ombati and Saitoti and were sleeping inside the house. Now that we’re gone though we will miss seeing elephants, gazelles, and zebras meandering through the fields. We’ll also miss falling asleep to haunting howls of the hyenas as they look for food close by our tent at night.

After the sun set OS (ombati & Saitoti) worked hard to clean the house so we’d feel more comfortable. Their standards however were far different from our own. Saitoti, a 20 year old masai warrior, lived for 20 years in a hut made of cow dung and sticks, sleeping on a cowhide shared with 3-4 other people and lived on a diet of cow milk, blood, corn and meat. Ombati is not masai, but definitely had different standards. Needless to say Keli and i spend the next 2 days thoroughly cleaning the house, ridding it of cobwebs and cockroaches, this was a task which occupied our time everyday. An average day consisted of visits to the market, planning for lunch and dinner, washing dishes and transferring the lantern from one room to the other as there was no electricity. Our headlamps were very popular. When we needed to charge our cell phone (what?!) we’d take it down to Sekenani (town) and pay the barber $.50 to charge it by generator.

We volunteered in Sekenani primary school and spent a lot of time speaking with the masai people, first trying to understand their culture and practices, then sharing when asked how this was different from the world we’re accustomed to. School was incredibly disorganized and we quickly realized what ‘africa time’ really means. We’d show up one morning and ask where we could help. ‘Do you feel comfortable teaching 7th grade science? The class is ready for you now.’ ‘Um, sure. Could i have some time to review their book first?’ We would finish teaching a subject then get thrown from 7th grade science into 5th grade math, then 3rd grade english and so on. I was teaching the 6th graders about water pollution and conservation one day and just had to laugh at the content of their books. First of all, these kids are all masai meaning they speak masai. If they go to school they have to learn english because exams are in english, then they learn kiswah ili as well. I can only imagine how frustrating school must be for these kids. So, i have a funny accent and am dialoguing with them about water pollution which is an issue they seem to understand pretty well. When we got to the part about conservation i saw a section in their book about water treatment plants and just started laughing imagining how and with what body language i was going to explain that one to their wide-eyed faces. Everyday on the mara was a beautiful adventure. We hit many road blocks and frustrations and found joy in the faces of so many people we met. OS will be lifelong friends and brothers as they not only protected and aided us but showed us a side of Africa through conversation and laughter that cannot be seen through safari bus windows and cannot be heard from the mouths of corrupt officials.

I apologize. There are so many stories and insights running through my mind it’s difficult to organize them and throw them down on this keyboard. During our day in Nairobi we are relaxing and taking care of some errands. Keli re-braided her hair, we’re finally able to check and reply to e-mails and we’re feeling very brave and adventurous as we wander the streets of downtown nairobi. We’ll jump on a bus headed north to Mt. Kenya tomorrow hoping to hang glide around the rift valley. We’ll be in Meru for a Kenyan wedding on Saturday and Sunday, then will come back to Nairobi before heading north again. This time for a 3 day rafting trip on a class 4 with an outfitter that does business with NRS. It will be the first time both Keli and I have been on an outfitted multi-day trip and is funny because neither of us have the necessary apparel. We’ll survive.

Hopefully we can do another post before we leave for Tanzania. Thank you for all your e-mails and thoughts and prayers.

May you be filled full and fulfilled today

Emily (and Keli)

Posted on November 20, 2008 by Keli · 1 comment Read More