Friday, December 27, 2013

African Safari Part #4 - Reminiscing

Green Mamba

One day we went to the reptile house in Nairobi. We were shocked at the number of deadly snakes in Africa. The top five are: (1) Green Mamba, (2) Boomslang, (3) Cobra, (4) Black Mamba, and (5) Puff Adder. We had been walking around in near dark at all these camp sites with very little knowledge about these snakes!!

Karen Blixen's Out of Africa house

We returned to Nairobi for some sightseeing after our camping safari. One day we visited Karen Blixen's house. Karen Blixen (real name Isak Dinesen) was a Danish writer who came to Kenya in 1914 and wrote Out of Africa (not available for streaming on Netflix) which became an academy award winning film. The film won seven Academy Awards and was nominated in a further four categories. This is a great film to get a feel for Kenya during the colonial period. Blixen also wrote Babette's Feast which won an academy award for Best Foreign Language Film.

One of the best books about early Kenya is Beryl Markham's West With the Night. Beryl was born and raised in Kenya. She became a bush pilot and was the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. Her story was told in a 1988 film, Beryl Markham: A Shadow of the Sun (unfortunately not available on Netflix but available as an audio book on There is a film, Nowhere in Africa, which takes place in Africa and is available on Netflix.

The Lunatic Express

Our group boarding for the trip to Mombasa

Our group boarded the famous Lunatic Express train for the overnight trip to Mombasa. This railroad was built  around the turn of the 20th Century. 

"Due to the shaky-looking wooden trestle bridges, enormous chasms, prohibitive cost, hostile tribes, men infected by the hundreds by diseases, and man-eating lions pulling railway workers out of carriages at night, the name "Lunatic Express" certainly seemed to fit. Winston Churchill, who regarded it 'a brilliant conception', said of the project: 'The British art of 'muddling through' is here seen in one of its finest expositions. Through everything—through the forests, through the ravines, through troops of marauding lions, through famine, through war, through five years of excoriating Parliamentary debate, muddled and marched the railway.'" 


Mombasa is an ancient port city. It has been influenced by Muslim culture for many years. The majority of residents are Muslim.

I was surprised to see the open sale of Khat. The chewing of Khat leaves has a long history as a social custom dating back thousands of years."Khat contains a monoamine alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant, which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria. In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence (less than tobacco or alcohol), although WHO does not consider khat to be seriously addictive. The plant has been targeted by anti-drug organizations such as the DEA.  It is a controlled substance in some countries, such as the United States, Canada and Germany, while its production, sale, and consumption are legal in other nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen."


We travelled up the coast 120 kilometers to the beach resort of Malindi. The coastal area of Kenya is predominately Muslim. The main native group is this area is the Swahili  people. 

Swahili man and child

Next stop Lamu Island. It's about a six hour drive to Lamu Island because there is no coastal road going north so we travelled on a small plane which only took about 20 minutes. The plane landed on nearby Manda Island which has a small short landing strip. We took a small boat across to Lamu. Lamu is an ancient slave trading port. It is Kenya's oldest inhabited town. The island has no roads or cars. All transportation is by walking or riding a donkey.

Lamu Island has been discovered by the jet set in recent years. Most visitors spend time in Shela where there are lots of cottages and a beach.
Lamu town

Petley's Hotel

We stayed at Petley's Hotel on the water front. It was the only place in town to get an alcoholic drink. No bars in Lamu town. I also remember that you could eat lobster three meals a day because the local people (primarily Muslim) don't eat lobster and the waters around Lamu (it's an estuary) were full of lobster.

Shela Town and Beach



In the village of Matondoni, they make the traditional dhow boats by hand. In the picture above, the builder is drilling a hole using a bow drill. No electricity folks. 

Egyptian Bow Drill


  1. See, Roger, I'm 'catching up' on blog posts - backwards - so just getting to this installment of your African adventure. Wow, the pics are wonderful, especially the one of the man and baby. I'm always attracted to the people shots most. That's not to say the scenery isn't spectacular also. How many countries did you visit in all? How long were you there? Have you kept up with your fellow adventurers since then?
    Did you try khat? I'd find it interesting to at least try once, probably not more than that. And, me thinks our DEA has lots of need for enlightenment re: drugs in general. Alcohol and tobacco, in my experience, are among the MOST addictive of drugs. And, also, what wonders our government could perform if we legalized drugs and made the incredible shift of available funds to combat poverty, ignorance (as related to educational endeavors), tolerance and PEACE.

  2. Our trip was limited to Kenya. The group was from Canada and over the years I lost contact with the group. We were there for about three weeks.

    I didn’t try Khat but I agree with the idea of drug legalization. Millions and billions of dollars are spent on the “war on drugs” to incarcerate people, policing, etc. I think the new changes in Washington State and Colorado concerning pot will be an interesting topic to follow. It will be interesting to see what happens when pot enters the legal market. There’s nothing inherently expensive in the production of pot. The market is similar to alcohol. Alcohol is cheap to make and even with high taxes, it’s still inexpensive.