2/16/13

Return to Kenya

At the Tanzania-Kenya border in Namanga

Past the main Ngorongoro Gate and into this lively village called Mto wa Mbu, we were brought by the same safari vehicles on our game drive earlier in the day. The wild animals are all finally behind us. It's back to civilized world. Our Intrepid truck waited at a garage, now looking clean after a much-needed wash from all that dust and grime. So did Walter, our tour leader, who welcomed us back with a big grin and a bunch of red bananas.

Goin' bananas at Mto wa Mbu

Mto wa Mbu literally means "mosquito river". Which is another way of saying malaria. Thank goodness there's deet and Malarone - I used both and feel confident I will not end up with high fever and chills days later on. The locals, mostly Maasai people, are so used to being bitten by mosquitoes they seem to have gotten away with illness - or at least that's what Walter wants me to believe.

This village has become a favorite spot for stopovers only because it's right smack on the circuit of those visiting Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire and Lake Manyara. While its main agricultural product are bananas (there are more than 30 varieties grown), anyone with a penchant for souvenir hunting will go gaga over its village market that's now apparently geared towards the moneyed mzungu.


Every time I visit a new country, my usual souvenir is just a fridge magnet - easy on the wallet, easy to store, easy to display. I ventured into Mto wa Mabu's market with that in mind. But no sooner have I entered, everyone was pleading for my attention. They were aggressive shopkeepers buzzing like mosquitoes out to suck me dry. I entered one, asking only for magnets yet I was bombarded with repetitious spiels - with the same tenacity as the next several shopkeepers I encountered.

Once everyone was done buying a piece of Africa to bring home, our truck roared back to life. Driving on this part of Tanzania was smooth and easy, thanks largely in part to foreign visitor influx. Maasai villages continue to dot this bucolic landscape. The looming conical apparition of Mt. Meru lends further beauty - which explains the fertile lands on which the Maasai have depended upon. Only 70 kms west is the more popular dormant volcano known as Kilimanjaro.

Maasai village with a looming Mt. Meru in the distance
Maasai people

We arrive late in the afternoon in Meserani, on the outskirts of Arusha. Our home for the night was the campsite at Meserani Snake Park. Several other overland trucks stop by (i.e. G Adventures, Acacia Africa) and it's interesting to see other "overlanders" since some have been traveling for 3 months or more.

This being a snake park, we were given a tour of the main attraction. Snakes aren't my favorite creatures and looking at two of the world's most deadliest - the green and black mamba commonly found in Tanzania - only solidified my dislike for them. I tried to make 'peace' with a little harmless serpent and prayed no one among its infamous cousins will slither into my tent that night. What do we know, our tents were pitched almost next to these snake cages!

Our tents at the Snake Park Campsite
A snake is not my friend

Babu prepared us a traditional African dinner - this on our last night as a group. Given the challenging conditions on camping trips, it's amazing how Babu could whip up a really great meal. It only shows what his wealth of outdoor cooking experience can do.

After dinner, we all capped the night by parking our arses on real bar stools at the campsite's Snake Park Bar. Thinking all about mamba snakes got me uneasy so downing a bottle of cold Kilimanjaro beer felt like a tranquilizer as I crawled into my sleeping bag later on.

Overland trucks at campsite
Arusha traffic

The next morning, we had a quick start in order to reach Nairobi before dark. It's about 9-10 hours drive covering 390 kms. Early breakfast meant a quick bite of toasts, banana and a sip of coffee. We even had to make our our packed sandwiches so we didn't have to make a stopover - except for a couple who was catching a flight in Arusha airport and dropping off two other people who were going on a Kilimanjaro trek.

Arusha is a bustling city, almost always busy with conferences involving issues within and outside the East African Community. Not surprisingly, hotels and its related businesses thrive to cater to many diplomats and government bigwigs staying in the city. Our truck crawled with the city traffic, eventually freeing itself on the main highway heading north.

Nairobi traffic
For reservations, just call their mobile number

Much as we would have wanted to, Mt. Kilimanjaro preferred to stay hidden away from our sight as we traveled on heading to the Kenyan border town of Namanga. Entrance formality here - compared to Isebania - was longer due to the long queues. Despite my "single entry" $50-Kenyan visa, I was allowed to enter again as per an official agreement by Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda.

Once done with immigration, we immediately hit the road again. It was a hot day and I drifted between sleep and stupor until I was jolted by Walter who wanted me to see Nairobi's infamous traffic scene unfolding.  We were indeed back in Kenya's capital city, where some 3 million souls eke out a living, where construction projects are built by Chinese firms, where even the ghost of its British past have lingered on. Ah...there are lots of roundabouts to deal with as our truck inched closer to our final destination - the Kivi Milimani Hotel.

16 comments:

  1. Ah, so you collect fridge magnets? For me, I collect postcards, which is also easy to store. And when I give souvenirs, it's usually textiles of some sort, foldable, unbreakable. Hence, my sister has several scarves from various places. Mugs and shotglasses are harder to carry as they might break on the way.

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    1. These magnets have almost covered my fridge :) There was a time I bought postcards too but only when photography was not allowed in certain places.

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  2. Fridge magnets are my choice of souvenirs too. It's easier to transport too aside from being a little bit easier on the wallet than the other types of souvenirs.

    I have a co-worker who uses Intrepid too. But she goes for the long vacations like 30 days at once.

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    1. Intrepid (and G Adventures) has wide range of itineraries. Most of their overland truck journeys can run anywhere from a week to something like 3 months!

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  3. Have you ever had the red bananas here in the Philippines? It's called morado, and it's my favorite because it's sweet and very filling. I wonder if they taste the same! Re souvenirs, I usually send postcards (+stamp of course) to myself. I buy ref magnets too if they're affordable.

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    1. I can't quite recall eating red bananas back home. Davao - where I originally came from - has several sweet varieties, my favorite being "binangay" or lakatan.

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  4. Red banana!

    Few days ago, my officemate asked me, "anong tawag sa pulang saging?". Ang sagot ay... - BANANA ketchup. :)

    Magnet din ang default souvenir na binibili ko. Pero parang nakakaenganyong bilhin ang mga artworks nila like those paintings, kahit sa isang photo lang from that market, makikita na sobrang ganda at colorful ng mga paintings nila. :)

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    1. hahahaha! okey yung joke mo ah, natawa ako :)
      the African-themed paintings on sale were really very catchy - yung nga lang, they were quite expensive and I don't even have a space for one in my shoebox apartment.

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  5. Interesting journal! I dont know if I could still visit this country...nice sharing some nice photos as we feel that we were part of your trip!

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    1. thanks! both Kenya and Tanzania are worth the long flights to experience wildlife so hopefully you could visit them one day!

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  6. I'm afraid to call the mobile number, Umota Hotel may have a deal too good to ignore LOL. Just kidding.

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    1. Whatever deal they may have, I'd rather sleep in a tent haha!

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  7. Frigde magnets are also a personal favorite! I cannot imagine how you've filled your refrigerator with your collection, Dennis. Do you still have spaces for those you'll acquire? Just teasing. :)

    I wonder if Umota Hotel is listed in agoda or tripadvisor? hehehe! With due respect to the owner of that hotel, I think I'll rather sleep inside a bus or a tent even if they offer free Wifi and warm hospitality, hehehe!


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    1. I remembered you saying something about your magnet collection before. My fridge happens to be big but yeah, there's less and less space for souvenirs to stick in there :)

      'Hotels' like the one pictured above are quite aplenty along highways in rural Kenya. I'm told they're used by long-distance truck drivers.

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  8. And I forgot to mention that if snakes aren't your friend, their my phobia! Now everyone knows how to kill me of anxiety.

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    1. Hmm...in case we see each other? hehe.

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