“What was the best part of your trip?” is the question that I get asked most often; well-meaning friends and relatives regularly toss me this line to prove their interest in my adventures. Strangely, I still haven’t formulated the perfect answer. I have found it impossible to boil three months and six countries of travel down to a single greatest moment.
As anyone in high school can imagine, taking three months off of school in your junior year raises many more questions –mostly about my parents’ sanity. I left in early April after finishing my Chemistry final exam one quarter before the rest of the class had learned the material, and with the promise of English, French, and Math assignments to come in the summer. Although this summer has included online courses and final exams, the trip was definitely worth it.
Over the course of twelve weeks, my family visited Kenya, Tunisia, Spain, Italy, France, and England; we took eight plane rides and spent hours in cars and train compartments. Although I can’t pick favorites, I think the most interesting country to visit –in terms of how different it was from my life in the United Sates- was Kenya.
My first hotel experience in Kenya was unexpected –the Palacina Residence and Suites (www.palacina.com) was totally decadent. Our apartment was clean and beautifully decorated, with clean mosquito nets and a small kitchen. That first morning, we visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/), an orphanage for abandoned young elephants and rhinos. Young elephants rolled happily in the mud and were fed from large baby bottles by workers, then trotted by the rope separating us so we could stretch out our fingers and pet their rough, leathery backs.
Next we visited the Bomas of Kenya (http://www.bomasofkenya.co.ke/), where the cultures of 42 tribes are preserved and presented. Mud and grass huts were erected in the traditional styles, and a tour guide supplied interesting facts and stories about the larger tribes.
Also an interesting cultural experience was the Maasai market in the Hilton Hotel Plaza in Nairobi, where handmade Maasai crafts are sold. As soon as we stepped out of our car, we were swarmed by Maasai men who took us around the market and collected anything we seemed interested in into a basket. Once we had done a circuit, the men gave us a price for the items and bargaining ensued. My bargaining tip: offer half of whatever their original price is, and work from there. My sister perfected this by seeming totally disinterested in the objects until the price was reduced sufficiently. Although it was slightly intimidating to hold my own against three grown men in a business transaction, I felt totally satisfied when I bought two hand-beaded necklaces for a price I felt comfortable with.
Safaris can be expensive, so we hired a driver to take us to Nakuru National Park. Before we even entered the park gates, baboons and zebra crossed the road in front of us. Giraffes, water buffalo, gazelles, rhino, and flamingoes roamed and grazed near our car once inside the park gates.
I would highly recommend traveling to Kenya if you have a sense of adventure. Kenya is not a place for picky-eaters either! If you’re not comfortable trying ostrich meat, you should at least have some nyoma choma; a dish of assorted meats that looks suspicious but tastes delicious. You’ll also have to get various shots and vaccinations before traveling to Africa, some of which need to be taken months in advance, so planning ahead is essential.
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