Katelyn and I left on an adventure to visit our friend Millicent in Kenya. We drove to Chicago (because flights are ridiculously cheaper from there than from Grand Rapids) and flew to Nairobi, with a layover in London. When we checked in to our flight in Chicago, we were told that since our flight was pretty empty, we would get the whole row to ourselves. We were pretty pleased with that until we checked in to our flight in London and were told we were upgraded to "world traveler plus" - basically the same as "world traveler" with bigger seats (2 to a row instead of 3) and better headphones.. and we got sparkling wine served in real glass wine glasses and a fancy meal! Also, I have to say that I love the fact that British Airways serves afternoon tea on their flights... and it's real tea.. not just hot water and a tea bag. amazing. We got back to Milla's apartment (and took a nap) and waited for her to get home from work.. she brought us some Kenyan food from Tusky's and we hung out for a while before going to sleep.
In the morning, we went to the Hope for Children orphanage, they were so welcoming - the kids sang us a song when we got there. They talked with us about how they run, and how they focus on trying to act like a family - they send all the kids to school and even when they grow up and move out, a lot of the kids will come back to help out or visit because they're like family, rather than just an orphanage. These kids were so wonderful to spend time with - we went to a field nearby and the kids played soccer and a few of them broke off and played dodgeball with a stuffed dolphin (more my speed). I talked with a girl named Marlene for a bit, she just graduated high school and would like to go to college to become a biologist or a journalist.
Millicent wanted to give us a 'real Kenyan experience' so Milla, Katelyn, Raf and I left her apartment without our driver and rode in a matatu to downtown Nairobi. We met up with her nephew, Felix, at Java House (at the 2nd Java House we went to, because the first one didn't have a full menu or WIFI). Then we went back to the market - the difference between a Saturday and a Sunday at the market was insane - it was so much more relaxed and people were way less pushy. After we were done, we met up with Milla's friend Carol and went to get some 'real Kenyan food' as Milla said. We went to two different restaurants, one was closed, one didn't have nyama choma... so we talked with a taxi driver and he told us of a place a little ways away - we all (all 6 of us) piled into his sedan and drove to a restuarant about 10 mintues away. We finally got to a restaurant with nyama choma (and Tusker!) and we got to sit at our own private gazebo, which was really nice when it started downpouring.. unfortunately it took us over an hour and a half to get our food. We had to take the same taxi back so we didn't have to wait in the rain for the matatu.. we got really good at fitting 6 people in the passenger seats of a sedan ;)
Hudson picked Katelyn and me up for our safari. We drove 5-6 from Nairobi to Maasai Mara. On our way, we passed through the Great Rift Valley, and stopped at one of the many super touristy and expensive shops along the road... but they had a working toilet and a great view of the valley. We couldn't take the normal shortcut road because it had been more rainy than normal for the season, so we had to enter the park before we got to the camp. On our drive, we saw zebras, gazelle, wildebeest, and impala.
After a long "African massage" drive, we got to one of the Mara gates. While we were waiting (for like 20 minutes) for Hudson to get us registered at the park, a group of Maasai women flocked to our car (like literally, they stuck their hands through every open window trying to sell us jewelry, figurines, blankets, etc.) We really liked one woman named Lydia - I didn't take photos because they were trying to negotiate photos into the price of the goods, but I should have once I bought some bracelets (they were first asking 300 Ksh per bracelet, but I got 9 for 300 in the end... and then she tried to take them away to get me to buy more! they're sneaky!)
We left on a full day game drive at 7:30 AM with a sack lunch packed. We first went to check on the dead buffalo, hoping a male lion would have showed up by then, but no such luck. On our way we saw some topi - we found a couple fighting which was kind of cool to see. As we kept driving, we found some elephants, giraffes, thomson's gazelle, impala, one cheetah, a mom and baby(ish) leopard, ostriches, and some other cool birds before getting to the Mara River for lunch.
We stopped at the Kenya/Tanzania border to take a few photos and then continued to the Mara River where we stopped to eat our box lunches. There were some crazy monkeys who tried to steal our food - we scared them off but a group across the grass had their juicebox stolen by a monkey with a baby on her back! There were crazy lizards at the shelter where we ate, I didn't notice them until we were about to leave and I'm pretty sure I screamed.. the armed guards at the shelter laughed at me. We saw some hippos in the river, but they didn't really move much. We drove around a little more and saw a few more birds and animals (there was a group of 17 giraffes in one place!) before we called it a day and went back to the camp for a rest and dinner. We got back to the camp and took hot showers.. but unfortunately our drain in the shower didn't work too well and we ended up making a swimming pool in the front of our tent... so then we spent a half hour bailing it out.
We left the Maasai Mara camp right after breakfast to head towards Lake Nakuru. Hudson had spoken with a few other drivers and decided the shortcut that was too muddy to drive was actually drive-able... Thankfully we had another driver following not too far behind us, because we got stuck in the mud. Some local Maasai men helped get us out in about a half hour, and again when we got stuck about a quarter of a mile after that... in another half hour. (We weren't allowed to get out and help.) After that, they had someone drive by us with a land cruiser to help us navigate the off-road path and get past the worst of the mud... unfortunately, right after we got back on the road, they stopped in front of us (probably to get us stuck again, so the people helping us could make more money helping us out again..) We were stuck for 3 hours. The land cruiser got stuck worse though, so that made it a little better once we got out and past them. ;) We stopped in Narok for lunch and tea (and a bathroom, finally.. after being stuck for 4 hours) and drove through some crazy rain.
We finally got to Nakuru after dark, and got to our hotel room.. we finally had our own beds! And our beds had some crazy sparkly gold curtains that we totally pulled around the beds just because. Before we went to sleep, we went down to get dinner. Dinner took FOREVER to get to us, but we watched some pretty amazing telenovelas re-dubbed in English.
We left after breakfast to go on our last day of safari at Lake Nakuru. The water level was too high to get close to the pelicans and flamingos, but we could see them from a distance and we saw lots of other cool birds :) We drove up to a place called Baboon Cliff, it had an amazing view of Lake Nakuru. We got out of the car to enjoy the view and left our windows open and the top of the van popped (even though there was a sign saying 'please close all doors and windows') - we were enjoying the view and the super cute rock hyraxes but when we turned to look at the van, we saw a HUGE baboon reaching into the top of our van trying to steal Katelyn's backpack. I wish I would have let Hudson and Katelyn yell at the baboon while I took a photo, but I didn't get one :-/ We took some touristy photos and enjoyed the view for a while before heading back down to continue our drive through the park.
We made our way back to Milla's apartment and had planned to take a nice shower and charge our devices... but the power was out. We packed up all of our stuff and drank our airplane sparkling wine (that we forgot to drink until then) and waited for Milla and Raf to get back with the car we were renting for the weekend - we packed it up and headed out for Milla's village. Once we were on the road, we realized that the power outage was city-wide (I looked it up, and apparently it affected Nairobi, Mount Kenya, and Mombassa) - luckly, we were headed west, and the power outage didn't affect the driving once we got out of Nairobi.
We drove all night, got stuck in the mud once, and finally made it to the village around 5 AM and got to bed for a few hours (although I had slept quite a bit in the car, thanks to Raf for driving the whole way!)
After getting to sleep at 5 AM, we slept for a few hours but were woken up when a chicken that had been inside the house decided she wanted to go outside, and she made lots of noise until someone opened the door for her. I had no idea there was a chicken in the house, so it startled me quite a bit :) We got up and had bread and tea for breakfast and then Milla's mom warmed some water on the fire so we could take bucket showers. We spent the morning hanging out at the house, spending time with Milla's nieces and nephews and taking photos. Milla's mom and sisters made us chapati for lunch. Phillip loved the camera and after posing for quite a few photos, he was all about learning how to use the camera himself - I had to surrender my camera multiple times to him so he could take pictures.
After lunch, we went over to Millicent's old primary school to talk with the kids about working hard and staying in school - especially the girls. She should be a motivational speaker, for real. She failed to tell Katelyn and me that she had planned on us getting up and talking to the kids too, which is probably my least favorite thing to do. Going there definitely made me appreciate how well we have it in the US - we had a question time, where the girls asked us about how we overcame challenges related to staying in school - we were asked how we would have gotten to school if we were a long ways away, how we were able to afford to stay in school throughout high school, what we did to stay in school and focus on our education if our parents were pushing us to get married, etc. While we talked, Raf was the paparazzi :)
After talking with the kids, we sat and talked with the teachers for a while and then realized that it had gotten late and we still needed to get to the high school - unfortunately, school had let out by the time we got there, but we were still able to catch a good amount of the girls and Milla told them to ask us questions there too, but we made the boys keep walking so the girls felt free to ask whatever they wanted - we made Raf wait in the car too. After we visited the schools, we went to pick up Milla's niece, Faith, and then we headed back to a hill by her mom's house to watch the sunset - they have the most amazing view.
We planned to go to see Lake Victoria (up close - we could already see it from the house), but it had stormed the night before, so in order to avoid getting stuck in the mud, we hung out at the house for a while and left for the lake after lunch. We got to the lake and walked around for a bit, and of course, I had to go to the bathroom as soon as we got there.. and there were no bathrooms. Milla helped me scout out a semi-private area to use, with the help of some women fishing on the shore, and then when we walked back past them, they asked for a photo with me. We bought some fish to bring home for dinner.
After the lake, we went to Homa Bay to get the car fixed and drop Milla off at the hospital to visit her sister-in-law, and then bring her brother back with us to the house. We ate the fish that we bought at the lake, and then Katelyn broke out her coloring supplies for the kids and then I tried to teach Christina, one of Milla's nieces, how to play cat's cradle... but the string was too short to get past the 4th exchange - next time I'll bring a cat's cradle string for the kids. We also got some Swahili lessons courtesy of Phillip and Steve - we now know how to say "I will beat you" in Swahili (nitakugonga). We learned that and a few other words in Luo too, but I can't remember them at all anymore.
In the morning, we changed the tire on the car and ate our breakfast before saying our goodbyes and getting on the road. We stopped in Homa Bay to drop off Milla's sister and her kids to go back to their home, and to get our tire fixed. We also stopped at Kisii and bought a decent amount of soapstone carvings for souvenirs. We drove for most of the day, stopping at the Great Rift Valley lookout point for bathrooms and photos, and made it to the airport with about an hour and a half to spare before takeoff.
After an 8.5 hour flight, we touched down in London for an 11 hour layover - we made it through customs and to the train downtown in about an hour! We hopped on the train and went straight to St Pancras to run across the street to King's Cross to be first in line at Platform 9 3/4 (duh!) but we were about an hour too early. We wandered the block and ended up at Drake and Morgan for some breakfast before heading back to Platform 9 3/4.
We took some photos at the platform and then explored the Harry Potter shops at King's Cross for a little bit. We also had to figure out quickly how british money worked because apparently public bathrooms aren't free in London - I had to go find an ATM, buy something small, and get change from a change machine just to get into a bathroom!
After we exhausted the Harry Potter themed things in King's Cross, we hopped on another train to the London Bridge where we had a pretty decent view of the Tower Bridge. We walked over to the Milennium bridge (because, Harry Potter. again.) and then decided that it couldn't be that long of a walk to get to the London Eye and Westminster, so we kept walking. We stopped at the Tate gallery for free bathrooms, and we found a few fun things in the gift shop (I got some fun stars to hang in my kitchen!).
We finally made it to the London Eye and Westminster and took a few photos, but by that time we realized we didn't have enough time to find a pub and still make it back to the airport in a safe amount of time.
We decided our best bet was to head back to the airport and find a pub in there. :) Somehow, when we got to the airport there was absolutely no line at security, and we got through in literally 5 minutes - but better safe than sorry! We found a restaurant and I got the fish and chips (and mushy peas, not my favorite) that I wanted, and I tried their London Pride beer (the waiter said it was the best on the menu) - not the best choice. It was like Bud Light.
We boarded the plane and headed home - we left London around 4:30, right before sunset, and as we flew West, we pretty much had a perpetual sunset for most of the flight - it only ended about an hour and a half before we landed in Chicago (at 7 pm)