Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Krismasi na Mwaka Mpya

A very delayed blog update, I will admit.  But the holidays generally keep one distracted with good company, food and adventure - and I have had more than my fair share of all three.

I spent Christmas weekend at home in Nairobi with a handful of other VSO volunteers and UK special guest, Nick.  Along with my house mate Andrea and neighbour Harvey, 3 other volunteers who are based around Kenya in rural placements came to Nairobi for a few days of urban Christmas festivities.

We spent the days in the run up to Christmas decorating our very large house with thanks to the creative genius of Andrea, who demonstrated a secret gift for the arts and crafts, and the box of surprise decorations our UK guest brought us.  Christmas decorations are expensive in Nairobi, and Christmas trees more so - but we were lucky enough to have been provided with several pine branches that, through some magic I believe, were fastened together into our very own tree, a la Charlie Brown.

Christmas morning we prepared a grand English fry up full with sausages (beef, chicken and veggie), beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, eggs, toast and this Irish potato thing I can't remember the name of - but which was very nice.  With only 2 hobs cooking the full breakfast involved careful strategising, compounded by the fact that the electricity went out about half way through.  But one of the core VSO selection criteria is flexibility and adaptability, and with that many VSO recruited brains around we figured it out.  

Things got a bit tense later in the day when an epic game of Urban v Rural Placement charades took place (the urban team won, naturally) and Scrabble Slam was introduced to Kenya. Things did calm down later, however, when Harvey pulled out his ukulele and formed and impromptu sing-a-long. 

Spending Christmas in Nairobi was definitely different.  The weather was an obvious difference - December begins the Kenyan summer.  I actually missed the dark, cold, damp streets of London.  There is something about sweating on the bus home from work which just doesn't make it feel like Christmas.  And apart from the ex-pat heavy shopping centres, Christmas decorations are scarce.  One could almost miss it all together if you weren't looking.  Kenyans typically don't decorate their homes.  There is gift giving (we had a Secret Santa at work), but largely Christmas is about travelling back the region of the country you come from and spending time with your family.  What a novel concept.

After Christmas, Nick and I travelled 2.5 hours via matatu (for the bargain price of Ksh500 or about £3.50) to Lake Nakuru where I went to my very first national park in Kenya and saw... ANIMALS!!!  We saw rhino, hippo, zebras, lions (yes, lions!), baboons, impala, water buffalo, giraffe, and a leopard (from very very far away - but it was definitely there!).  Absolutely amazing.  I have included a few of my favourite pics from the game drive below:

Nick and Moses, our driver, next to our very cool safari Jeep that we could stand up in!

Kenya is synonymous with animals and there is something really fantastic about driving around and seeing them in the wild.  Lake Nakuru is a relatively small park at about 166 sq km (Masi Mara is about 1,000 sq km), but it was really beautiful and I highly recommend it.

After a few days, we travelled down to Lake Naivasha where there was an informal VSO New Year's residential, and we met up with around 12 others for a few days of camping, hiking and relaxation to bring in 2012.

Sitting around the camp fire.
A few of us decided to hike Mt Longonot on New Year's Eve, an inactive volcano about 45 min drive from where we were staying.  We were told the hike from the ground up to rim of the volcano was very difficult, but definitely worth it, and that the 11km hike around the rim of the volcano was pretty straight forward.

The photo above is a few of the group resting after the hike up to the rim before heading off on the hike around the rim, which includes hiking up and down the peak - which is off in the distance.  We were pretty pleased with ourselves after the hike up to the rim - it was difficult, but we made it in good time.  Little did we know what awaited us..  The photo above is the last photo I took as I was far too tired, dusty, and sunburnt to reach for my camera.  The hike was gruelling and hot.  I understand that photographic evidence of my appearance on this hike does exist - but I choose to ignore it!  However, it was an absolutely brilliant day - and I would happily do it again. The views continually changed as we scurried around the rim.  We could see almost the entirety of Lake Naivasha off one side, and the from the other we could see up out of the Rift Valley to the plateau that Nairobi is on many miles away.

The last night in Naivasha we went out to a local Kenyan kuku choma (roast chicken) joint for, well, roast chicken.  Great way to the end the holiday.  I'm aware this blog post has a been a bit light side.  Don't worry, next week we'll return to work updates - my organisation is currently launching a movement to change the political landscape of Kenya -  it's very interesting stuff you will get to read about next week!   Happy New Year to all of you, I hope that 2012 finds you well!

Kuku Choma!

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