Tanzania to Kenya
The border crossing from Tanzania to Kenya really wasn’t so bad…meaning it could have been much worse! Maybe it was time for a mini border drama, since previous crossings passed easily and without a hitch:
- South Africa – Namibia
- Namibia – Botswana
- Botswana – Zimbabwe
- Zimbabwe – Zambia
- Zambia – Malawi
- Malawi – Tanzania
Mini Visa Drama
Before traveling to Kenya you apply for a visa using eVisa. After the Kenyan Consulate approves your visa, you download it and print the details, including a receipt. Thinking I followed the instructions and did everything required, I was horrified when we reached the border and the Kenyan immigration officer said my paperwork was incomplete. The immigration officer frowned at me and then disappeared behind the glass window with my passport in hand. After a silent scream, I waited pondering my fate.
Everyone else had already passed through Kenyan immigration. Eager to escape the scorching sun, they watched the situation play out hoping for a quick resolution, so we could enjoy the comforts of our Nairobi hotel. After a 20-minute wait in 100+ degree heat, the border agent returned, stamped a Kenyan visa in my passport, and shoved it through the glass opening. I heaved a sigh of relief, grabbed my passport, and walked away!
As we maneuvered our way through heavy Nairobi traffic our guide missed a turnoff and made an illegal U-turn to get back on the right road. The Kenyan police stopped him, but he sweet talked his way out of a fine. We arrived mid-afternoon at our hotel – Sentrim Boulevard – near the heart of Nairobi.
Years ago Sentrim Boulevard was one of Nairobi’s poshest hotels. It’s been replaced by more modern accommodations. Even so, it was comfy and the park-like grounds were lush and full of native flowers and birds. After weeks of traveling in the rugged African bush, a proper hotel and a hot bath were a treat.
There wasn’t much time to explore Nairobi since we were departing for the Maasai Mara early the next morning. Our guide cautioned us about night excursions. Nairobi is dangerous for tourists and pedestrians. People were on high alert after terrorist attacks at Jomo Kenyatta Airport and shopping malls.
A quiet dinner, retiring early, and sleeping in a comfortable bed were satisfying to me – no need for more excitement or adventure. Not overly bothered by terrorist reports, I planned to visit Nairobi on the way back to South Africa. There would be more time to explore the city then, without being rushed.
Nairobi is known for its shopping and open air Maasai Market with beautiful hand-crafted African goods including colorful woven baskets, handmade jewelry with incredible bead work, clothing, and wood carvings. Fierce businesswomen, Maasai women sell their beautiful jewelry throughout the city. They don’t take no for an answer. I bought several beaded cuff bracelets in traditional red, yellow, and blue Maasai colors. They’re unique, cherished possessions.
Nairobi is one of Africa’s most politically and financially important cities. The word “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase “Enkare Nyorobi” meaning “the place of cool waters”. At one time under the British East Africa protectorate, Nairobi’s land was a swamp inhabited by the Maasai. Later, the British built a railroad connecting East African cities, encouraging settlements, and opening the area to trade.
With a population of three million, Nairobi is the largest city in East Africa. It’s home to the United Nations African Office and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UNEP “sets the global environmental agenda, serves as an advocate for the global environment, and promotes development within the UN system” – whatever that means?
Maasai Mara National Reserve
Early the following morning after breakfast we left Nairobi and headed for the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The “Mara” is a popular, well-known safari destination and one of Africa’s most spectacular game reserves.
The Mara is the beginning of the Great Migration of over a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of Thomson’s gazelle and zebra – all pursued by relentless, ravenous predators. The area is known for the colorful Maasai, and an abundant lion population. When driving on Mara roads, animals always have the right-of-way.
The Maasai Mara covers 1,000 miles and is bound by the Serengeti Plain to the south, Siria slopes to the west, and Maasai ranches to the north and east. The landscape is mainly vast savanna grassland including rivers that come and go with the seasons and interesting trees like the flat-topped acacia.
Mt. Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, is a main peak in the Maasai Mara. The legend is that Mt. Kenya’s three peaks stand for the sons of the Kikuyu chief – Kenya’s largest ethnic group – selected by God to rule Kenya.
Mt. Kenya’s two main summits can only be reached by technical climbing. The third highest peak, Point Lenana, is a popular trekking and hiking destination as is Mt. Longonot, a stratovolcano that last erupted in the 1860s.
All animals in Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo – live in the Maasai Mara. Hippos gather in the Talek River, a tributary of the Mara River. Black Rhino and Cheetah live on the Maasai reserve but in small numbers since both species are threatened. The reserve is home to over 450 species of birds including marabou storks, secretary birds, hornbills, cranes, herons, ostriches, and one of my favorites – African Pygmy-Falcons.
Our accommodation was in permanent tents in one of many Maasai Mara Camps. The camp perimeter wasn’t fenced so lions and other wild animals were free to come and go. Everyone was cautious – especially at night. While we were sleeping, an impressive Maasai night guard sat by a fire near our tents watching over the campsite. He was magnificent. Just the same, I made sure my tent door was securely fastened!
The next morning we enjoyed a game drive and a visit to a nearby Maasai village. Maasai villagers surrounded our group, draped us with colorful robes, and performed a welcome dance. I felt a little silly, but it was fun interacting with the friendly Maasai who are known for their outgoing personalities.
Part of the walk to the Maasai kraal and houses was over a fresh field of cherished cattle dung. Regrettably, I was wearing a pair of flip-flops – maybe better than a coating of cow dung on my hiking boots…. Of course I ended up with dung all over my feet and between my toes. Later, I scrubbed my feet and tossed the flip flops.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Early the next day we departed the Maasai camp heading north to Lake Nakuru National Park and another afternoon of game driving. Nakuru means “dry or dusty place” in Maasai. The saline, alkaline lake was originally a bird sanctuary. It became a National Park in 1968.
Lake Nakuru National Park is home to a variety of animals including the Big Four – lion, rhino, leopard, and buffalo. The park is a haven for endangered black and white rhinom but there are no elephants.
Lake Nakuru is famous for enormous flocks of flamingos gathering by its shores to feed on abundant algae in the Lake’s water. Trees and vegetation around the lake range from grasslands to dense forests, including the rare euphorbia forest and tarchonanthus bushland.