Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: From Lamu back to Nairobi via the coast (May 17-20)

Current Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Highlights: Buses stuck in the mud, close encounters with dangerous snakes, and third class back on the train.
Upcoming: Flamingos on L. Bogoria, north to Lake Turkana, and then Ethiopia

We decided to take the mini-bus from the ferry terminal on the Kenyan mainland to Malindi south on the coast. It was raining hard and the dirt roads were mostly mud, but our small mini-bus was fine. However, on a narrow stretch, a large bus was completely stuck. We waited for about 2 hrs while the bus passengers pushed and dug in 30 cm deep mud in the rain. But they did manage to get the bus out of the mud and we continued on towards Malindi. We stayed the night in Malindi and headed off the next morning for Watamu.

Our goal was to visit a snake park where they commercially produce snake venom used to produce snake bite anti-venom and is run by a real character called James Ashe in Watamu just south of Malindi. We got a local matatu from Malindi to Watamu. The matatu is a small mini-bus (like a Toyota or Nissan small van) into which they can cram up to 22 people. In fact, the police stopped us and made two people get out as 22 people in this small vehicle was just too much, even by Kenyan standards.

We found the Bio-Ken snake park and were introduced to James Ashe and his wife Sanda. James is 75 now and was originally from Britain but has lived in Kenya for more than 20 years. He is a real character and full of incredible stories which we listened to for hours. He gave us a tour of his snake farm where we saw spitting cobras, puff-adders, over 20 black mambas, and 20 green mambas, and a whole host of other snakes and reptiles. The snakes are kept for their venom which is sold to a South African company and used to make snake anti-venom which is used to treat snake bite victims. James sells the anti-venom to victims who can afford to buy it and gives it away free to the majority of people who can't. As luck would have it, James was scheduled to give a snake show that night at one of the local hotels and he invited us to come along.

The snake show is put on for tourists and we got to see: a range of snakes common in the local area, especially tree snakes. The show highlights were demonstrating a spitting cobra spit. He took out the cobra with his hands and put it on the floor. On the sole of his shoes he had two drawing pins which looked like eyes and as soon as he lifted up his shoe, the cobra focused in on the "eyes" on the sole of his shoes and spat a wad of venom right at the pins. Spitting cobras apparently disable their victims and animals that are a threat by spiting venom in their eyes. James also demonstrated how fast the strike of a puff adder was by putting the adder on the floor then letting it strike a balloon. It was so fast, all you heard was the pop of the balloon and the snake almost hardly appeared to move. Then he milked the puff adder into a glass and showed his huge fangs.

I took lots of really neat pictures, but again, I will have to send them later as I am sending this via mini-M satellite phone.

We left Watamo and took a matatu back to Mombassa. A very uncomfortable ride, but kind of fun to see how the local people travel.

We spent the day in Mombassa checking into all the shipping companies to see the cost of shipping the Landy form Mombassa to Italy or to Jordan just in case our Sudanese visas were not issued. The cost averaged around $1350 for a 20 foot container with an additional $4-500 or so on paperwork and other fees. The last place we stopped at was the Mearsk office. Mearsk is a very large Danish shipping line. We were greeted by Mads, and although we were dirty and smelly, he showed us into his modern clean office and we began to get shipping costs. Mearsk was by far the cheapest and most professional company we had visited that day. The cost of a 20 foot container from Mombassa to Italy was $1050 plus $500 port and other charges. We also asked about the cost from Djibouti to Jordan. He e-mailed us that freight cost which was about $950 plus the other charges of documentation fees etc. I will not go into too many details of the shipping issue just yet, but will go into the shipping in depth later as this is a very common issues addressed by anyone who wanted to travel Europe to Africa or visa versa.

After exhausting the shipping options, we gathered our things and went to the train station to catch the overnight train to Nairobi which departed at 7 pm. This time we traveled third class, very cheap at 350 KSH, but without any of the luxuries of second class we used to on our outbound journey. Third class was how the local people traveled and was just seats in large open carriages. People use the train to transport all sorts of things such as sacks of corn, chickens, and just about anything else. We didn't sleep very much that night, but it was kind of fun. We were woke up at 6 am by a guy shouting along the train. In fact he was a person preaching about God with a bible by shouting at the top of his lungs in Swahili and asking for money. I asked him to be quiet and he just ignored me and continued.

Just a few hours later we arrived in Nairobi where the Landy was waiting for us and where we would find out if we had been issued with visas for Sudan.

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