Saturday 28 October 2017

Intrepid Travel Gorillas & Game Parks - Day 1

Watching nature documentaries, I've always marvelled at how birds especially seem to live such difficult lives, apparently choosing to make things hard for themselves - flying over the Himalayas, for example, or the length of the Pacific, or across the Sahara. But leaving Dubai airport and heading south-west, it's clear that some humans do the same thing, living their lives in stark, bare, barren and hostile environments. Leaving all the architectural fantasies of Dubai, with its bright green parks and avenues standing out even within the city against the basic background of sand, almost immediately that's all there is. Dry, empty, and no apparent reason for any sane person to choose to live there - but still there are roads, scattered houses, even little towns. Amazing.

Kenya, by contrast, each time I pressed the button on my Emirates 777-300 to raise the neat little shutter inside my window, was green, rolling, with trees and solar farms and clearly full of good reason to live here. As we all did, kind of - it's the literal cradle of humanity.

And now I'm in Nairobi, my anxiety about not having pre-bought my East Africa visa a total waste of energy as all it took was a 20 minute wait in a queue (and USD100) to get me all set, There seemed to be a sense of camaraderie amongst the passengers queuing for entry and waiting at the luggage carousel - a fizz of excitement, of setting off on a real adventure.

And then straight away we were into Africa as I remember it: so many people everywhere, walking along the road, sitting under trees, clustered around roadside stalls, minding cattle grazing along the verges, driving somewhat erratically down the highway into the city. "Sometimes there are zebra grazing along here," the Intrepid driver said. "They wander in from the National Park." I'd seen it as the plane came in - right up against the city boundaries, and the airport: a huge natural-looking area of low green hills, trees, a few waterholes. No herds of wildebeest or trails of elephants, but clearly a taste of things to come, hooray. And statues of some of them anyway, along the central reservation of the road leaving the airport.

Remember Lt Uhuru, in Star Trek? Her name means Freedom in Swahili, and there's a park here called that (full of people sprawled under the trees, naturally) to mark a momentous development in Kenyan history of which I - as yet - know virtually nothing. That will change. First facts: Nairobi is a city of 4 million; the country has 40 million occupants.

Edwin, our Intrepid Game Parks & Gorillas tour group leader, with a good sense of humour and a brilliantly white smile, welcomed the dozen of us (three still to arrive) at our introductory meeting here in the hotel - so far mostly Australians, mostly women, mostly middle-aged, mostly Africa newbies and all of us excited and eager and focused on the gorilla experience. We went to bed after dinner here in the Kenya Comfort Suites Hotel (goat ribs for me) lightheaded with fatigue but fizzing about getting started early tomorrow on our adventure.

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