Monday, March 16, 2020

Kenya: Feeding Giraffes and Elephants All Day

It was a sunny African morning in Nairobi. We arrived last night after dark so there was a lot of Nairobi discovering to do.

The view from our room at the Stanley Hotel.

The hotel keys had amusing tidbits on them relating to past famous guests.

The hotel's breakfast buffet was fun. It was located in the Thorn Tree Cafe, which gets its name from a Navaisha thorn tree that lives in its center. According to legend, travelers passing through used to used the thorns to pin notes. The cafe went full Forrest Gump on the honey selection: cinnamon honey, star anis honey, lemon honey, chili honey. That- that's about it.

They had a honeycomb dripping honey into this other thing. Apparently they like honey around here.

They were similarly excited about serving a variety of milks. That full bottle that nobody wants? Camel milk.

You know I wanted to try some. I've had camel milk chocolate and camel milk panna cotta in the UAE, but never just a shot of the hard stuff. A sign on the table described it thusly:

"Camel milk is a good source of potassium and phosphorus, helping your body maintain a healthy blood pressure level, in combination with a low-sodium diet, which may reduce the risk of a stroke... camel milk is also a good source of protein with 10 grams of protein per bottle, helping you maintain stronger muscles."

This food was normal I just liked that the sign referred to it as "streaky bacon". I'm going to eat it anyway despite how unappetizing I find that word.

Pumpkin leaves and sweet potatoes. Buffets in other countries are just the best. You can try little bites of weird things without sacrificing your whole meal to science.

Ukwaju means tamarind in Kiswahili.

We booked an Uber and hit the road.

Conversation with locals commonly included "flights into the country are all closed. You are the last foreigners." and "Maybe the flights out of the country will end and you will have to stay here." Oh what funny jokes they have in Kenya.

Yesterday on the drive to the hotel the guy in charge of our travel company told us that both the elephant and giraffe sanctuaries that we had planned on visiting were closed due to the plague. Well in life you really gotta roll like the Russian proverb: "trust but verify." We asked the Stanley concierge to call both places and check for us, and they were both open! The day was saved. Our first stop was in Lang'ata, Kenya to see some giraffes.

The first scene I encountered at the Giraffe Centre was a group of men trying to push a Coca-Cola refrigerator onto a truck. If they had all gathered to share an ice cold Coca-Cola together afterwards it would have made for a great tv spot.

I spotted a giraffe a ways away and it was fantastic. These majestic giants were my first reminder of why we came here in the first place after all the drama of getting here and all of the worry leading up to the trip. This first experience in Kenya was really good for my mental health. Afterward I remember thinking that if this was the only animal experience we had on the whole trip that it would have been worth it. 

It didn't take much time for these guys to tilt their long necks in our direction and see that we had coconut shells full of their favorite snackies and come sauntering over.

I could have stayed here and given them treats all day. The tops of their massive tongues were rough but the bottom was very slippery. I ended up with a lot of slime on my hands. 

I saw this playful cartoonish sign about the dangers of getting headbutted by a giraffe.

After feeding Betty the pregnant giraffe about 50 times I thought we had built a bit of a rapport. So I tried to pet her and the nature of our relationship was made clear to me immediately when Betty swung her big melon at me. I dodged it because I'm quick like a cat but the message was clear: Betty was a jerk. Episodes such as this are why I never ever trust a pregnant lady.

The giraffes never made a peep the whole time we were there. This is because they communicate at a frequency that is too low for us to hear. I bet Betty heard me call her a two-faced, slimy tongue snack sucker though. She knows what she did.

Giraffes can involuntarily control blood flow to their brains when they lower their heads to drink, so that they don't get the world's worst case of lightheadedness every time they lift them back up.

There was a little attempt at a giraffe museum in the building on stilts. A newborn giraffe pops out the same height as me: 6 foot.

I guess you can tell what kind of giraffe you are looking at by their patterns. However I think this is sort of like dogs, in that while they have a variety of appearances they are all technically the same species.

Lydia found some good giraffe earrings in the gift shop.

At one point a little family of warthogs ran through the park. It's funny how something so exotic to me can just be a commonly seen animal in another land.

Giraffes males competing for females will pummel each other with their 600 pound necks. This is unimaginatively called "necking". Despite this mass, giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as people do: 7.

We didn't have great phone service so we just asked our Uber driver if he would be our dude for the day. Steven was born on the border of Kenya and Uganda and has six siblings. He said that’s normal for the previous generation but a lot for this one.

Kenya seems to have a decent grasp of public health compared to the lowly US. Plenty of toilet paper, hand sanitizer everywhere. Not only is there hand sanitizer at the entrance to the hotel but a door man specifically requests that you use it every time you enter. Compared to the US where I assume people are licking their fingers and alternating between praying and trying to shoot the coronavirus with assault rifles as we speak.

Cab guy Steven said traffic is worse than normal because no one wants to use the buses due to cooties.

We didn't want to be late to our next conservatory wildlife engagement at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The scam here is you "adopt" a baby elephant and then you "tuck them in". I had envisioned like a really big bed and like, reading it a story from a really big book, but that was not at all what was about to happen.

There wasn't a whole lot of narration from the staff here. It was pretty much, ok group, follow me over here. Then next thing I know a line of smallish elephants ran by. Ok. I guess I'll... follow them?

Some of these guys were so young that they were still being bottle fed. Out of very large bottles, of course.

You know how when you already ate but you go to a friend's house but they haven't eaten, so you just kind of awkwardly watch them eat? Well the rest of our time here was pretty much that. Not one of our hosts offered me anything. Not even a leaf. Very rude indeed.

One of my favorite parts was watching their trunks slide through the fence to eat and drink things. It was like watching a friendly snake. I did pet these guys and not one of them tried to swing their stupid fat Toys R Us head at me.

I liked that not only were they eating the leaves but they were chewing the sticks too.

And when you're done with your dinner why not help your neighbor finish theirs? Very neighborly indeed.

The really little ones were in a... I guess a barn. It had walls and a roof while the others were more exposed to the elements. The elephants and the elements.

There was a rhinoceros in his own pen. I think they said he was blind so he pretty much just derped around the walls of the place looking sad. 

It just seemed like a very inefficient way to feed yourself. This is going to take all day.

We found what I think must be a superhero baby elephant.

I was a bit concerned about the innkeepers here. I saw a few cots in these elephant barns. Do they live here or what? I hope they are getting their cut of our elephant money.

We did it. We saved Dumbo.

Well after all of our hard conservation work with elephant orphans and the like, we were feeling pretty pious and ready to have dinner at Talisman, which their website humbly describes as "arguably the best restaurant in the country". The restaurant is located in the Karen suburb of Nairobi, named after Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa which I am reading throughout my Kenyan adventures. Blixen's farm occupied the land where the suburb now sits. I guess her home is now a museum but we did not have time in our itinerary to visit. Sad!

The dawa is supposed to be a national cocktail so I ordered us up a couple of those. I'm not sure they were even on the menu. I'm just that cool. The dawa is pretty much a Kenyan version of the Brazilian caipirinha.

The fare was pretty international. For an appetizer we rocked the feta and coriander samosas with chili ginger jam.

For my main dish I chose the "Moroccan spiced beef: apricot, chick peas, almonds couscous, hummus, flat bread, mango chutney, minted yogurt". Fun fact about Morocco: I've been there but Lydia hasn't. I was there being legit tortured by her last month, in fact.

It was a little chilly but luckily we had this little frog man with a mouth full of hot coals nearby to provide the coziness.

We popped back to the hotel for a bit.

We booked another Uber. There ain't no rest for the wicked. Uber was fun because all of the little cars had Kenyan flags on top.

We took our Kenyan chariot to the nearest Carrefour.

They also had the 54 kinds of honey we witnessed a bit of earlier at the Stanley breakfast buffet.

The toilet paper! By now the US has been reduced to Soviet bare shelves when it came to butt parchment. People at home, in my understanding, were now buying a potato when they had to go just so they could wipe with the receipt.

I was learning a bit of the local Kiswahili inadvertently. Apparently a lot of the Lion King characters' names are just basic animal words. Simba literally means "lion", for example. Rafiki, the monkey shaman guy, means "friend".

I gathered some important rations for the excursions in the coming days.

Back at the Stanley Hotel we had a nightcap at the Exchange Bar, named as such because the Kenyan stock exchange was born at a previous iteration of the hotel.

"H.M Stanley and Dr. Livingstone sail down the cool water of the Rusizi (1871)."

Man I needed a sip after watching the stock market take a bath with a toaster today.

At this point we were just hoping we had a home to return to.

The fans on the ceiling were fun.

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