Masi Mara Safari, Zip to Zanzibar, Hop Home, Search for Sponsorship, Cracking Christmas are the highlights of the month.
The month started off with a trip to the Bizarre Bazaar in Nairobi and just like every Christmas Fair all over the world, the availability of beautiful items you never need but must have are everywhere and at top prices, a bit too much for me but a reminder of how commercialised Christmas has become. What with the sun splitting the stones it is hard to get into the festive season and as Karen was visiting being a tourist was more of a priority, so my friend Nish at www.suntreksafaris.com came to the rescue and both Karen and I headed off like the definitive tourist with cameras in hand to the Masi Mara National Game Park. A SunTrek tour bus along with George our personal tour guide and driver couldn’t have made us feel more special until we arrived at the Mara Sopa Lodge and were treated like royalty, given an upgrade and endless attention, not the usual back packer style I am used to. After lunch we headed off on our first Safari and were like children in a sweet shop, spinning from side to side trying to take in all of the wildlife. Here we were (along with so many others) interrupting their afternoon nap or meal but the animals weren’t phased in the slightest, I wondered what they must think of all of these mad humans packed into minibuses all trying to fit out the elevated top to get a better view.
Nonetheless we saw so many animals from the common zebra and giraffe to the more rare lions and elephant. But it seemed like potluck when we arrived back and compared notes to the other guests who didn’t seem to have the same wonderful experience we had, I guess we just took the right turns! Thanks George!! Safaris were at 6am and 4pm allowing for time for some baking by the pool while the animals stay out of the sun we go out into it! Something in my Irish psyche gets such a kick of doing this in December. There were eight Irish staying in the hotel (the others over from Dubai or UAE on their Idd holidays as Ramadan came to an end) all trying to get a tan for Christmas at home in cold Ireland. By the time we left I had taken five reels of film, getting the greatest adrenaline rush from taking amazing pictures and driving poor George mad, "just one more shot..., just one foot forward or back..., just two more minutes I’m sure that Buffalo will look straight at me any second now..." But he was as patient and pleasant I could never have done it without him. He could spot an animal in the midst of the bush and knew all there was to know about each one. I should have taken notes, as I took the photos, as I haven’t a clue what half of them are now. The highlights being a six week old baby elephant, ten lions quickly devouring a zebra and one fabulous photo of a male lion sitting in the high grass, I hope some day soon to get these pictures on the website so you can all check them out!
Of course I had to develop the photographs the day I arrived back and Karen being ever organized had her set in an album and all the following day. That same day was not the best for Karen herself as she experienced the bad side of Nairobi also known as Nai-robbery. As we got off a bus in Westlands a nice young man decided he wanted what Karen had around her neck and went straight for it with crowds around and no-one to help. Fortunately Karen is still the proud owner of her chain but it did give her quite a shock and took the edge off the tranquility we had found in the Mara.
However we did not allow it to put a dampener on the weekend and went all out "tourist" and visited the Karen Blixen’s house (of the Out of Africa fame), the Giraffe Centre and hand feed giraffes, had genuine Ethopian food with my favourite Ethopian (thanks Naju). Went to the Museum and yet another Christmas Fair (this one even having Santa Clause, he must have been roasting in that big red suit and beard!). The weekend ending with yet another SunTrek tour but this time of Nakuru National Park with the flamingos (do you know they are the colour they are depending on what they eat?) and Rhinos to mention but a few. Duncan our driver was great but when I wanted just one more shot of the Buffalo this time he knew when we were in danger of being rammed and turned and left. A barbeque in Bryan’s finished off the week nicely.
After the unfortunate bombing in Mombassa the day of Karen’s flight we had decided to change plans and with the help of Dennis the ever-flexible travel agent in Let’s Go Travel and Ibrahim in Zanzibar, 4 days of sunshine and beach was to follow. Ibrahim was at the airport to meet us, and brought us for traditional Zanzabari breakfast (spicy soup, yummy!!) The first evening was spent in Mercury’s Bar, Stonetown (called after Freddy, former singer in "Queen", who was born in Stonetown). Not really the touristy holiday as before as it was my return visit. The following day we headed to Nungwi beach after the obligatory shopping in The House of Zanzibar, a must for all visitors. On departure for Smiles Hotel I discovered that another guest who was staying in the hotel had a familiar name but it was hard to believe that both times I have visited this small island that I would meet someone from home.
So I said I would check her out when I got there but sunsets and jet skiing took priority and Karen did some diving so a couple of days later when Karen spotted a blonde head of curls on the beach I realized that there in front of me was my friend Catherine Keating who is out in Arusha working for APSO whom I had gone to visit in April last year (what a great surprise!). After the initial shock, scream and hug, I realized that people actually do read these updates! I was so chuffed. Ibrahim had been to Arusha in October on a conference and Catherine’s Catering College had been working at it. She had picked up the brochure and thought about booking to stay there when her friend came to visit and the following week my August update (late as always) arrived raving about Smiles, so she booked it and low and behold here we both were. We caught up with stories that evening but left the following day.
Waving goodbye to our wonderful host (thanks Ibrahim) we headed back to a quiet Kenya, celebrating it’s national day of peace just weeks ahead of the elections. A night in Motherlands restaurant with Martina and friends and a bit of dancing brought the holiday to an end for Karen and my journey was just about to begin as we headed to London for a five hour wait in the cold in Heathrow Airport before heading home to Cork for lunch. A hat, gloves and a coat were borrowed on arrival as the reality of how cold it gets started to hit home.
Here the real work began and I sent my household into overload as I wrote press releases and got photographs to different papers, even a photo shoot with the Echo, unfortunately it didn’t go to press till I had left and they managed to get my name wrong and make me sound like a hick with no life and I would be ashamed to show it to any of my African friends as it was written in a "politically correct manner" and not at all how I would put it! But none the less all publicity is good right???
I went to visit several schools and it was wonderful to be back in the classroom. Special thanks to St Patrick’s GNS, Hollypark who made me feel like I had never let and in a moments notice managed to raise over 1,200 euro in two days, I am ever grateful. Scoil Olibheir, Ballyvolane were as welcoming and interested as ever and raised 600 euro, the SMA retired priests managed the same and Maire’s class in Goggins Hill were great. Family and friends in Cork and Dublin surpassed themselves and by the time I was coming back to Lodwar I had managed to raise a fifth of the projects funds, a total of 7,000 euro, not bad for two weeks work! Thanks again everyone! Keep up the hard work!
Several days were spent driving Diarmuid (my brother) and his family mad as we finally got the website up and running and I must say I am very proud of it, thanks Diarmuid! Still have to get the plans for the building up but that will all happen in time! Rome wasn’t built in a day but do check it out on www.tasteofturkana.com
Unfortunately due to the none stop travelling, fundraising and the cold weather of the first week the second week was spent sick as a dog and I had a splitting headache for Christmas Day and there was no moving me on St Stephens Day even though I was all set for the Wren Day celebrations. So the year and the month came to an end on antibiotics for my ailments and physio for my back affected by the damp and all the great plans of visiting friends was curtailed greatly. I must acknowledge the almost daily calls I received from Fr. Aodhan of the SMA to check on my state of health. It was much appreciated (you will be missed greatly but good luck on your new assignment!)
It was good to be home for the festivities though and although Martin was missing this year his presence was very much felt all the way from New Zealand as he spoke on the phone and typed on the internet at the same time. The following few days were exciting for Kenya as they voted in a new government and I keep tabs on events via text messages from my friends in Nairobi. Thankfully all went peacefully and the people of Kenya were given a new lease of life and hope for the future, whatever it may bring. The New Year was rung in with friends and family in Fionan’s (my brother) house with Seanie Riordan playing the pipes and my mother and all the gang up dancing to "Cheeky Girls", did ever think I’d see the day?
Hope you had a good one where ever you are! Fierce excitement in January but can’t promise when it will arrive!!!
Love always, your friend in the desert!