Our flight from Jo'burg to Nairobi went without a hitch. Rescheduling our flight with British Airways from Lusaka to Nairobi for the end of our trip was another matter, but after thirty minutes at the B.A. desk in Jo'burg and over an hour in Nairobi we got that taken care of as well. The driver that the hostel had arranged to pick us up at the airport waited patiently for us to finish at the airline counter, then spent the next thirty minutes giving us the low-down on Nairobi and overland tours during the drive to the hostel.
The next morning we walked a couple of blocks to the Heron Court Hotel where we met the courier (Melanie, a smiley and energetic Brit in her early twenties), the driver (Mick, another Brit, who lived in Africa previously and has just recently returned), and the seven other passengers on this first leg of the trip. All of them are New Zealanders, five of them are "mates" from "uni", and all of them have just finished a stint working in London. Mike (butcher by trade, and sports fanatic) and Jess (fraud investigator and general cut-up) are the only other married couple, and have already detailed a load of celebrity sightings from their work as event security in London. Zane (real estate appraiser and master chef) and Karen (environmental consultant and "hourie"--we're still trying to figure out what that means) are engaged. Mark (veterinarian and champion fire starter) and Jo (marketing agent and the mother of the group--"Has everyone got sunblock? Taken your malaria pills today? etc...) are also engaged, with their wedding set for a month after returning to N.Z. Greg, who goes by "Ellie", is the lone bachelor of the group, a financial consultant and planner for farmers, and top b.s.er of the bunch (which hard-fought honor to claim). For this first week of the 32 day tour, we have learned more about New Zealand cuisine and slang, rugby and fishing than we have about Kenya, but it's a laugh a minute so we don't mind.
On the first morning after loading the truck, we drove just a few minutes outside of Nairobi to a reserve for giraffes, where we could feed them out of our hands. As the giraffes have eighteen inch tongues and as much saliva as a St. Bernard in a Milk Bone factory, it was quite an adventure. We arrived at the first campsite mid-afternoon, and Mel gave us the rundown of where everything was on the truck, pitching the tents, various chores we would take turns at, and an overview of the first 22 days of the trip that she's in charge of (we change trucks when we return to Nairobi).
The next morning Abi and I hung out around the campsite while most of the others took a bike ride through a nearby park. Later that day, we all went a few km down the road to Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson, the author of "Born Free" and several other books about her work rehabilitating and studying orphaned lions, cheetas and leopards that she and her husband were able to reintroduce to the wild. We watched a short documentary about her life, then had afternoon tea in the garden, watching colubus monkeys and birds in the trees.
The following day we drove (more accurately, bounced) to Lake Nakuru National Park. As the park entrance fee is on a 24 hour basis, we stopped for lunch just outside the gates. I had a small package of chips in my hand, and a monkey dashed toward me. I held them up over my head, but he jumped right up there and snatched them out of my hand. We all had fun watching him eat the chips and fend off the other monkeys.
Our time in the park was very nice. We saw zebra, giraffe, water buffalo, hippo, Thompson gazelle, impala, white rhino, loads of amazing birds (including secretary birds, eagles, and flamingos). The excitement for the evening was a group of water buffalo that surrounded our camp. After sunset, about five of the group went for a short walk to the toilet, and Mark hid off to the side of the trail. As they came back toward the truck, Mark did a wild boar immitation and charged them, sending them running for cover. We all had a good laugh about that one. Just after midnight, Abi and I woke up with one of them grazing and snorting three feet away from our tent--very nerve wracking until he moved away.
The next two days were mainly travelling days, as we truck across Uganda for our adventure with the mountain gorillas.