Wednesday july 15: Nairobi to Samburu.

The room at the Holiday Inn was good but unexceptional; the rest of the hotel was quite unusual. For instance, the restaurant opened to the outside air, so we had breakfast looking at the exotic vegetation and the strangely coloured birds picking away at food remains on the terrace.

At 7:30 we met Job who was going to be our guide for the rest of the trip. It turned out that the two of us were the whole company. Apparently they can make things work with putting every couple or family that signs up for a safari in a van with driver of its own, or maybe the tourism industry is not doing too well.

We started driving out of town. The scene was similar to the night before though precisely reversed: then we were driving into town, seeing masses of people streaming out of town at the end of the day; now we were driving out of town without much of an interruption (save for an overturned bus which was being hauled off the road unceremoniously) while the other direction, into town, was a massive, though unusually colourful traffic jam.

Not everyone drives in Kenya – gas is at US prices -- so plenty of people were walking to their job, including one well-dressed gentleman reading the newspaper. As we got further out of town the stream of people walking to work gradually turned into individuals and small groups carrying various goods on their backs, on their overloaded bicycles, and in one case on a small dromedary.

The most popular form of transportation for the comman man (and woman) is the matatu: small busses for a dozen passengers. We saw them loading and unloading everywhere, in town and outside town. Most of them had names that spanned the range from religion to popular culture -- the most obscure one I saw was called "Crunked".

We passed through various small to medium size towns, but the signs of habitation never really left off. In between every two maize or coffee or pineapple fields would be a small cluster of buildings, usually containing one bar, one butcher, and one cell phone shop. Everything very colourful.

Another constant was the groups of cows and goats grazing somewhere in the fields off the road, guarded by a single man, sometimes young boy, and once a girl absorbed in a book while her cows were grazing, roped to a post.

We saw a few markets where women, again very colourfully clad, were sitting with mounds of fruit and other wares. For a while we were wishing we could have stopped in such places and walked around, taking fantastic pictures. This illusion was dispelled when we had to stop at a security stop and the guide warned us to close the windows: as he went in to show papers our van was immediately surrounded by people who insisted on selling jewelry and fruit and whatnot. It was then that we realized that mingling among the crowd would have been completely out of the question. We would immediately be surrounded by a crowd of people too aware of how much richer we were. Not a pleasant feeling.

By around 2pm we were at the Samburu camp. The word camp conjures up tents and straw huts. Well, this was more like fancy contemporary architecture inspired by tents and straw huts. Everything looked great and everything was open to the outside air, the bar, restaurant, and in the cabins the walls are screens to the outside. When we arrived, in time for lunch, there were just two other parties: one couple and one family. Judging by the number of tables that was less than one third of the capacity of the place. Tourism is probably not doing too great this year. We had a pleasant lunch, a short rest, and then went into the wildlife reserve for some animal viewing. The other two parties also left, in their own vans. We all had the roof raised, so most people were standing to have a better view of the landscape, and pretty soon of the animals.

We had already seen some zebras and reticulated giraffes when coming into the camp (and quite a colony of babboons, some of which greeted us by humping each other in the middle of the road) but now we added to this impalas, oryx, and our favourites, dik diks, a sort of deer barely a foot high and extremely cute. The male dik dik is recognizable by thimble sized horns, and both sexes can run quite fast and are somewhat shy. You would be shy too if you were the size of an hors d’oevre.

On the other end of the size spectrum, we watched half a dozen elephants pull some shrubberies completely to pieces. Seeing them reach for the tastiest bits of green with their trunks was comical. No leopards showed themselves that day, but we (almost literally) ran into one very lazy lion that was resting by the side of the road. She could barely be bothered to raise her head to see who was coming to gawk at her.

Two very peevish looking ostriches guarded a bunch of youngsters. They look like you don’t want to mess with them.

Back to camp and dinner at 7:30. The food was great, the Tusker beer refreshing, and on returning to our cabin, the night sky was empty of clouds, full of stars, and even provided a falling star if we needed divine assurance that the rest of the trip was going to be just as good.

Wednesday night. Our cabin has insect screens for walls, with curtains on the inside and rolled up canvas against rain on the outside. This turned out to give a very nice natural airflow in the middle of the night when a breeze picked up. It also turned out to be somewhat noisy, as every part of the cabin was flapping in the wind. Much as if it had been a tent, I guess.