Category Archives: Travel

New Years Resolution: Ski More Powder!

I just returned for a weeklong trip to British Columbia in search of that white stuff that has eluded the Sierra Nevada Mountains so far this ski season. I was determined to take action in 2014 so I started hatching plans, sending out texts, and found a willing and awesome partner in my friend Lizet. We scoured the forecasts and it seemed like the most sure bet was Revelstoke, BC, a sleepy town that comes alive in the winter with bountiful snow, a resort that towers with vertical, numerous catskiing and heliskiing operations, and famously beautiful backcountry. We also have some friends there, which makes sleeping and getting a local’s tour of the ski possibilities easy. So, we met up in Reno on January 1st and flew to Seattle, since we both had free flights and made the 6 hour drive to Revelstoke after a bite to eat in Seattle and stocking up on groceries and gas in the USA.

It was snowing as we drove east and when we showed up in Revelstoke, snow piles were over 10 feet tall at every driveway. We woke up the next morning to snow falling steadily from the sky and got on the hill at the leisurely time of 10:30 AM – we knew we needed sleep to start the trip off right. I also knew my legs wouldn’t last all day.

We were lucky that our friend Stephane had a day off to show us around. He is an awesome telemark skier that heads up Tough Guy Productions. He showed us all the goods that day and we both knew we had our best turns of the year. It snowed all day and so the next day would be a legitimate powder day.

Lizet and I are just a little bit pumped about the snow!


We awoke early knowing we needed to get to the hill prior to the 8:30 opening. Much to my chagrin, when we arrived, there was a huge line for tickets. Stephane and Lizet got in line for the gondola while I waited to buy a ticket. I watched the line grow and grow. Even though the mountain itself is huge, it only has 3 lifts – the main gondola from the base, the Stoke Chair to the top, and the Ripper Chair for some additional terrain. This may have been the most skiers they’d ever seen in one day. I got my ticket at 8:40 and ran to try to find them in line catching them 10 people before it would’ve been too late. I was relieved to have a posse to shred with and to avoid the 2 hour line.

The powder day line up at the base of Revelstoke. Photo by Lynsey Dyer.


We skied all day – tight trees, pillows, more open trees. The visibility up top wasn’t great, but the snow made up for it. Our final two runs, slightly out of bounds were my best runs of the year and I returned home with crushed legs and a huge smile.

The next day we decided to explore more of the Revelstoke Mountain sidecountry since it was clearing up – we were able to ski more powder, see more of the options for out of bounds skiing, and even make Allie’s yoga class for some leg restoration at 4pm. After yoga we were able to meet up with some other friends in town and meet some really fun locals. My legs were turning the corner and I was starting to feel more and more at home in this town.

On the fourth day, I had made plans to ski with Anne Keller from Alpine Finishing School. It was an all-female crew including Kellie, Kim, and Lizet. Anne literally took us all to our best run of the season. It is a 4,000 foot climb, but the snow was perfect the whole way and the views were even better. The run down was full of pillows and open lines – everyone was smiling at the end and wishing we had time to do a second lap. If you’re up in Revelstoke, look Anne Keller up. She works for Selkirk Tangiers and will take you to good skiing!

Anne pointing out some of the nearby peaks. Photo by Lizet.


Stunning views on this tour.


On the 5th and final day in Revelstoke, I headed out with our friend Rory to ski Mt. Begbie – the mountain most visible from Revelstoke and one that the local brews were named after. We used Rory’s sled to climb 4,000 ft and then skinned an additional 3,000 into the alpine. The snow was a bit wind-affected on our first run, but on the 2nd we nailed the right aspect and it was great skiing. The bonus was skiing all the way back down to the car. Some was on a snomo track, but there were occasional powder cutoffs.

Rory readies his trusty stead.


Up in the alpine with the summit of Begbie behind Rory.


After a change of clothes and rallying the troops, we headed to a Revelstoke establishment The Village Idiot with twelve of our friends for some food and beers. We even ran into new friends we made. It seemed harder and harder to ever leave this place! By the way, do not miss the Village Idiot if you go to Revelstoke. The food is delicious – not bar food, just good food. The scene is classic mountain town bar without a corporate influence. I wish there was something like that in every ski town.

Not being able to pry ourselves away from Revelstoke, we decided to leave at 3 AM the next morning to use one of our free tickets at Whistler. Lizet had never been there and I hadn’t skied there since 2002. So, we busted out the 6 hour drive and were able to spend a day exploring a bit. We called it “gaper Whistler day” since we were not raging powder turns, but just cruising around exploring. The skiing highlight was the new Symphony bowl area because it had soft turns and good visibility and the gaper highlight was taking the peak to peak gondola. Happy with our Whistler experience, we took off for Vancouver to meet up with a college friend of mine and enjoy delicious and inexpensive sushi. We ended the trip with a solid ukulele jam session for another early departure to catch our plane. Below are some of my favorites from the trip:

The views from the peak to peak – a true engineering marvel (but also somewhat disturbing).

Skiing:
Find a local and have them show you around on day 1 – it will be worth it!
Kill the Banker (skiers right) at Revelstoke
Rogers Pass Backcountry

Eating:
Village Idiot, Revelstoke
Le Baguette, Revelstoke
Modern Cafe, Revelstoke
Avenue Bread Breakfast Sammies, Bellingham
Metropolitan Market for a quick lunch, Seattle

Deals:
Get Revelstoke tickets at Costco in Vernon, BC or Bellingham.

Random help/ride share, etc:
The Stoke List – a craigslist for Revelstoke, but better. 2 awesome people we met run this site.

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Pretty Faces on Kickstarter!

Please take a moment and consider a donation to Pretty Faces – an all female ski and snowsports adventure film! I had the incredible opportunity to be an athlete on a film trip for Pretty Faces last winter and I can attest to how much the collective efforts of a few people have put into the making of this film.

Pretty Faces athletes on the “top of the world” in Alaska


So check out the kickstarter and donate what you can. There are some great prizes in the mix! I went for the $50 level to get a DVD and trucker hat!

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Kenya Trip: Summit for Our Sisters aka SKIING IN AFRICA!

So it was Tuesday morning, and the final leg of the Kenya trip was upon us. We’d depart for Naro Moru, a town at the base of Mt. Kenya, at 11 AM to meet with the Mt. Kenya Guide and Porter Association and hatch a plan for our trip up Mt. Kenya. Kelvin gave us a lift in a car he borrowed for the occasion to fit our skis and snowboards. He’d never seen skis and snowboards in person and he’d never been to Naro Moru, so it was fun for all of us.

Kelvin, our fearless driver!


En route in Kelvin’s ski carrying machine!


We met with the head guide Matthew and decided to ascend via the Naro Moru route since the weather this time of year is unpredictable and usually not great. We were here during the “light rainy” season and the rains had come a few weeks late and basically showed up for the start of our trip. The association put us up in super nice “bandas” complete with a fire place and we were to depart the next morning.

Really nice accommodations at the Mt. Kenya Guides Association.


The next morning we met our guide Simon and some of our porters and loaded into a private matatu to the gate of Mt. Kenya National Park. We picked up porters and sometimes just their backpacks along the way. It was pouring rain. Dropped at the entrance, we paid our park fees and did some last minute gear rearrangements and were off.

Bags and skis ready to be loaded into the matatu.


The first 10 km were up a rough dirt road to the Met (meteorological) station were we’d camp at 10,000 feet for the night. The high clay content combined with constant rain made the road slick. We were in a bamboo forest and spotted monkeys and water buck from time to time. There was evidence of elephants, but we didn’t see any. Half way through, the rain subsided and we were able to enjoy the last few kilometers. Day one was in the books the only thing left to do was to set up camp and watch monkeys scarf down flowers.

A rainy start to the hike.


Starting to clear up and the views are getting better!


My pants and shoes would remain this way the rest of the trip. My shoes would remain in Kenya.


Sykes monkeys take over the Met Station


It rained all night and I dreamt that I was sleeping in water. Luckily, the Black Diamond Mega Mid held up and we emerged dry the next morning. After assessing the state of our tent and talking to the caretakers at Met Station about the weather up higher, we decided to leave our tent behind and utilize the hut accommodations the rest of the trip. Our next destination was McKinders, 10 km away and 4000 ft higher. Part of the hike would be through a section called “the vertical bog” which would live up to its name – spongy, wet, green, steep, and rain from above continually adding to the moisture. I was in great spirits the first 3 hrs of the hike, but as the constant rain started to seep through my Gore-tex jacket, I started to unravel mentally and asked the guide if we could pick up the pace. He declined and so for self-preservation, I charged ahead and made it to McKinders within the hour.

Just past “the vertical bog” – just a bog at this point!


One of the 3 types of riberia on Mt. Kenya collecting water like it’s designed to do.


I was trying to smile for this selfie. Behind me is the first glimpse of snow on Mt. Kenya.


When I saw this sign, I just said out loud “happy” even though no one was around.


Looking out the window at Mt. Kenya’s peaks from McKinders Hut. It wants to clear up!


We spent the afternoon drying off the best we could, drinking tea, chatting with some French guys, and resting at McKinders. Around 3 in the afternoon, the clouds broke and I had my first real glimpse of Mt. Kenya. I could finally see why I was here. I’d been questioning it before.

Yeah, it’s pretty beautiful here when the sun is out.


The next morning we headed up to the Austrian Hut and on the way, I crossed the 14,505 ft elevation mark, so I was now officially as high as I’d ever been. I was feeling the altitude and had not slept well the night before, but I was able to keep a steady pace and make it to the hut for rest and lunch. I spent a few hours resting in my sleeping bag waiting for my headache to subside and the weather to clear before making a push to the summit. At 3 pm I suggested we try for the summit with the anecdotal evidence that it cleared up around 4 pm the previous day. Simon and Jen were game and so we started the somewhat quick hike from 15,700 feet to 16,322 feet.

Jen scrambles with assistance from cables on the way up to Pt. Lenana


The 40 minute hike was fun. There was a few inches of new snow on the ground, fun rock moves, moderate exposure, and some rebar ladders. We reached the top quickly and it was still socked in. We took some photos and hung out for a while when we saw a patch of blue make an appearance. Little by little, the skies cleared and we were treated to some views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. I excitedly proclaimed that we might get to ski tonight! So we headed back down to scope out our access to the glacier.

Me at Point Lenana with clear skis moving in! My backseat meteorology turned out to be correct. Watch out NOAA!


By the time we made it back to the Austrian Hut, the clear skies were gone, but the visibility was good enough to get a good look at the glacier. There were a lot more “cracks” visible than I anticipated. We had heard reports ranging from no crevasses to one obvious crevasse to an unknown amount of crevasses. We had also heard that the glacier surface would be anything from old ice to deep, wet snow. From my vantage it looked like it had multiple cracks and wet unconsolidated snow on top of ice. There was even evidence of a new slide. I was hoping the wet snow would freeze overnight and therefore stabilize and bridge some of the cracks. The lookers left side of the glacier was a longer run, but had less new snow and more cracks, were the lookers right seemed smoother, safer, and, overall, like a good starting point for the morning. We confirmed this information with the ranger who lives at the Austrian Hut. He said that the first snow Mt. Kenya received this year started 2 days ago and that due to the long dry spell, many cracks did open up. The glacier definitely looked a lot different than the conditions described to us during this expedition last year and it looked incredibly different from the shots in the Warren Miller movie filmed at least 10 years ago.

We knew the glacier was receding, but I couldn’t help but feel like we’d be one of the last people to ski on snow this close to the equator. We decided to wake up early in the morning and climb the right side roped up and reassess from there.

The morning came and it was clear so we got our stuff together as quickly as possible and made the 10 minute walk to the glacier. We roped up and started climbing. The snow had frozen overnight as I hoped and was perfect for climbing. The surface was not bulletproof and so crampons held well which boded well for skis and snowboards. When we reached the top, the clouds rolled in again so as we started our descent, we were in a white cloud. It induced a bit of vertigo, but I was able to use rocks and some bamboo poles (placed for a glacier study) to make efficient turns down the glacier. It was like a storm day above treeline where you use anything dark to gain perspective. At the bottom of the run, I thought about hiking back up, but the visibility kept degrading and that would be my only run in Africa, this time!

Jen making her way up the Lewis Glacier with clear skies in the background.


Not so clear for skiing, but skiing was still super fun!


After high fives to each other and our guide Simon who was waiting at the bottom, we returned to the Austrian Hut and showed photos to our cook and porters. I think they were impressed, but they were also happy to be heading back down to McKinders to a warmer and dryer environment. So we packed up the rest of our stuff and ran down there just beating the late morning rain! It rained the rest of the day, so instead of heading down, we just relaxed at McKinders and were to descend the final 10 km the next morning. We awoke to clear skies again and started our descent and sure enough it started to rain again at about 11 am! We were all but down at that point. We just had a scary 4 wheel drive down a dirt road to town. Amazingly, it hadn’t rained Naro Moru all weekend and the dry lawn and warm sun felt amazing… as did a shower and soap. We had done it! We climbed Mt. Kenya, skied Lewis Glacier, and summitted for our sisters. The campaign is running for 2 more weeks so go here if you want to donate and support Zawadisha’s work in Kenya! Quick shout out to all my supporters: Elevenate for gear that kept me dryer than everyone else, Osprey for the best ski mountaineering pack on the market, Natures Bakery and Tahoe Trail Bar for delicious snacks to fuel our bodies, Kirkwood Mountain Resort for the training ground, and Kind Design for stylish tshirts and gloves.

It’s clear again! Need at least one jumping photo!


There was no snow or rain in town, but my new friend Maureen wanted to try out the skis!

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Kenya Trip: Giraffes, Elephants, and Shopping!

After Kilgoris, we had a day in Nairobi before we left for Mt. Kenya. I had fond memories of visiting giraffes at the Giraffe Center in Langata, a suburb of Nairobi, so I decided to arrange another visit there. I hit up Kelvin our driver and he picked me up from the Sarit Centre Mall where the Zawadisha crew was doing work. Langata and Karin are these peaceful, somewhat bucolic areas of Nairobi bordering Nairobi National Park. Walking into the Giraffe Center, I met Ed and fed him some pellets gave him some pets.

The scene at the Giraffe Center


Ed, the giraffe


Ed’s eye. Giraffes have huge heads and eyes… and great eyeliner!


My high school visit to the giraffes

My high school visit to the giraffes


My adulthood visit to the giraffes. I’m not sure I’ve changed, at all!


Since I was one of the only people there, I was able to spend quality time with the giraffes and then leave by 10:30 to head over the Elephant Orphanage. David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage has daily programs from 11 to 12 PM where you can meet all the orphans, ranging from 3 months to 2 years old and hear all their stories. You can even touch them and watch then drink out of bottles and eat. It is cuteness overload the best $6 I spent! Additionally, it is for a great cause. Most of these orphans are so because of poaching. Elephants live to be 70 years old, have 6 sets of teeth in their lifetime, and really do have an amazing memory. After the elephants are released into Tsavo National Park, there are stories of them remembering their caretakers 30 years later!

A group of the orphans coming out to visit.

Just getting some water.


Elephant pile up!


Just some elephants doing a secret handshake.


After an amazing morning visiting animals, Kelvin and I picked up the others and headed over to Amani Ya Juu for lunch and shopping. Amani Ya Juu means “higher peace” in Swahili. It’s a fair trade sewing and economic development program for marginalized women in Africa and was started by displaced women sewing placemats. They have an incredibly beautiful selection of handmade household items, baby stuff, women’s clothing, and bags. We met with an Amani worker Maggie, who also receives a Zawadisha loan and had lunch and then Judi and I went to town shopping for Christmas gifts. It’s always nice to be able to buy unique gifts that support empowerment. You should shop there now!

Maggie explains Amani Ya Juu’s story to Judi. Judi looks smart.


We finished the evening with some Ethiopian Food at a restaurant popular with Nairobi’s many NGO workers. Nairobi has quite a few gems and I was happy to have the day to see quite a few of them. The hardest part is navigating the “public” transportation and traffic!

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Kenya Trip: Kilgoris

Back in Nairobi to change out my clothes, I caught a matatu the next morning to meet back up with Jen, Judi, and Cindy in Kilgoris, where they had a Zawadisha group of Masai women called the Upendo group. Upendo means “love” in Kiswahili and I would soon understand why the group was called this. I sat in the front of the matatu and the driver was remarkably safe by Kenya standards. As a result the trip took almost 6 hours, but I was alive and starting to get the hang of traveling on my own in Kenya.

Roadside maize stand from the matatu window


On this trip, I met the first Kenyan to say that the president was very good and not corrupt, which I thought was interesting. During our short time in Nairobi, the front pages of all the papers showed President Uhuru Kenyatta on trial at the International Criminal Courts in the Hauge. He was charged with having people killed in the opposing campaign. I didn’t have a lot of time to read up on it, but at least 10 Kenyans had told me how corrupt their government was. I did take some time to read about Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and some of his successors and there was quite a hint of corruption through power and land consolidation. There were tumultuous times in this relatively new democracy and comparatively, the past 2 presidents were quite an improvement from the previous one. In 1997 I was here during one of the most corrupt regimes in Kenya’s history and I was none the wiser. As a teenager I thought Kenya was all about lions, cheetahs, and elephants, but as an adult, I couldn’t help but think about the living conditions of the local population. Still, apparently the middle class is growing in Kenya, while it continues to shrink in the United States.

En route to Kilgoris, we passed through some very dry and dusty agricultural lands which felt like what the dust bowl might have looked like. Locals said there was less rain this season so far. We climbed up a hill and out of the rain shadow and into an area known for tea plantations. Kenya is one of world’s biggest tea suppliers and the area was lush and green. A light rain started to fall that stopped as we reached Kilgoris and I hopped on a motor bike to the convent where we’d be staying. I was looking forward to meeting back up with Jen, Judi, and Cindy and having a short retreat within a familiar Catholic compound. I found the convent and was shown my room, which reminded me of my days at middle school basketball camp. Jen, Judi, and Cindy hadn’t arrived yet, so I headed out for a long walk to take some photos, stretch my legs, and check out the surroundings. As I left the gates of the convent, I saw a large group of school children leaving school. They were quite surprised to see a “Mazungu” (white person) in their neighborhood and so they proceeded to walk with me for the next 15 minutes. Every once and a while one would get the courage up to talk to me in English and it would send the rest of them into fits of laughter. Despite the general feeling of being laughed at instead of laughed with, I enjoyed their company and had friendly greetings with many of the other locals on my hour long walk.

Classic Africa views on the way to Kilgoris


Kilgoris is really green


When Kenyan children first learn English, they are taught the phrase “How are you,” much like we’re taught como estas in Spanish class. So as I walked past plot of lands, I’d hear children yell out “HOW ARE YOU!” and I’d respond, “Good, how are you!” and then they’d respond, “FINE, HOW ARE YOU!” and thus began the possibly never-ending “how are you cycle” as I called it. It was definitely good for a few laughs!

When I returned, the others arrived and we observed a beautiful African sunset and sat down to dinner prepared by the sisters. We met 2 other Americans staying at the convent who happened to be University of Michigan graduates! They were working locally on project called “World e-Reader” which provided e-books to local people accessible via a mobile phone and also kindles which are provided to schools. There are so many projects in Kenya which is why the legitimacy of the government is so important.

Sunset at the convent


The next morning, we set out to visit businesses run by Zawadisha loan recipients. This would be my first time following Jen, Judi, and Cindy around on their tour. We headed up a crazy dirt road and marveled as our driver made it in his 2-wheel drive sedan to Mororo’s maize distribution warehouse. We were greeting warmly by Mororo and friends who were dressed in traditional Massai garb. Mororo spoke proudly about her business and was excited to increase her loan amount and maize stock. I took some photos and the women were amused that I took a photo of their dog and asked me to also photograph their donkeys. I was not quite in on the joke, but it was still hilarious to see them laugh in delight as I photographed the donkeys. After the visit, we were given tea and andazis which were delicious and headed out with Evelyn to check out her shamba (small farm) that Zawadisha helped support. Evelyn is a local school teacher and so her English was great. She talked about her farm, her improved quality of life, and also how, this year, the rains haven’t come. There was no irrigation in this region and the success of crops were dependent on rain. Lack of rain also put additional financial stress on families as water was often collected for drinking and cooking.

Mo
roro making a maize sale.


“How are you?” “Fine. How are you?” “Fine, how are you?”….


Can you believe I took a photo of these donkeys? HILARIOUS!


The scene in front of Mororo’s


The scene outside the “hotel” where we had tea and andazis.


Evelyn made a hilarious joke!


Our next stop was to meet up with the entire Upendo lending circle at a home of one of the members and do a seminar on empowerment and have lunch. When we arrived, the women welcomed us with a song and dance and took our hands leading us into their world. It was so incredibly moving that I had to put my camera away to fully engage. I was able to shoot some video and a few photos. Here is a video of the Upendo group welcoming us.
greeting
We piled into the living room area of the home and Jen and Cindy began the day’s workshop. Again, the women were so happy to receive the help from Zawadisha. They talked about the importance of family, a house, animals, clean water, and a farm. The needs were different than the Nairobi group, but so similar throughout the Upendo group. There were many smiles. After lunch, they had another song and dance for us and then gave us traditional Massai bracelets with our names on them. I exchanged emails with one of the daughters and I do hope she writes me. It was an incredibly moving day of warmth, happiness and celebration. Unfortunately the leader of the group was very ill at the time of the meeting. We all made a pilgrimage to her house and prayed for her and visited with her, but we learned that she passed away no more than a week later from pancreatic cancer. The condition we saw her in provoked deep thoughts about end of life care for people in poverty versus wealthier developed nations. It was a heartbreaking end to an inspiring day.

The welcome from the Upendo group


We were sad and thoughtful at Lorna’s home, but this baby made us smile. (photo by Judi)


Our new bracelets. Thanks Upendo!

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Kenya Trip: Kilifi and the Saidia kwa Moyo Orphanage

Just 3 days prior, I had no long term plan for the remaining 4 free days I had in Kenya. Then, just by staying at the hostel and talking to new people the plan became incredibly clear. Traveling with Lina and Lena, two 20 year olds, and Nico, a 25 year old, seemed to just work. Lina and Lena seemed like Kenya veterans and navigated the matatu and restaurant system with ease. We grabbed one matatu to Ukunda, then transferred but grabbed a $1 lunch first, then got off the matatu before Mombasa to board the ferry by foot for free transport across the river. When we landed in Mombasa, there was some confusion as to whether a matatu would connect directly to Kilifi and the 20 Kenyan men yelling in our faces didn’t really help the situation. We decided to just walk away, which is a vital skill in Kenya – sometimes removing yourself from the situation is the only way to find a solution – and sure enough, a Kilifi-bound matatu showed up. Departing Diana around 12:30, we landed in Kilifi via 3 matatus and a ferry at 4pm and Lina and I decided to walk to the orphanage while Lena and Nico hopped in a tuk tuk with our bags. A tuk tuk is a 3 wheel taxi. I’ve only seen them one other time in a town in Peru’s Amazon forest. They speak hot weather to me.

View from inside a Tuk Tuk


As we walked to the orphanage, we saw some of the older children from Saidia kwa Moyo leaving school for the day. They were middle school aged boys and girls and they politely introduced themselves. We settled in to our new temporary home which was really nice as the orphanage has guests on a regular basis. The guests are usually “godparents” that sponsor the children and then visit for a few weeks a year. We met the founders , Petra and Helmut, a lovely, older German couple, and many of the staff including “the mamas,” kind and beautiful Kenya women who cared for the children daily and taught them vital Kenya skills like traditional cooking and hand washing. Many of the children at Saidia kwa Moyo had lost their parents to HIV, Petra explained the “missing generation” to me – where the children had grandparents but no parents. Of the 34 children at Saidia kwa Moyo, many were brothers and sisters. Some were away at boarding high schools and the oldest was at university. Petra and Helmut’s plan was to support the children through young adulthood, until they were successful and self-reliant. Though the orphanage couldn’t replace their parents, the support they provided in access to water and food, clean shelter, showers, clothing, tutoring, sports, games, and mentorship was better than 90 percent of what I’d seen throughout the country. If you’re interested in getting involved and supporting a child, visit their website.

The scene inside Saidia Kwa Moyo. Cuteness OVERLOAD!


We sat down for a dinner of dango and rice. I think dango is red lentils – it was delicious. The children have a rotating menu that consists of dango and rice, small fish and rice, beans and rice, chicken and rice, ugali and greens and some other traditional Kenyan dishes. They rotate in helping to prepare the food. I have to admit, the scene at the dining room was straight out of Annie or Oliver Twist. I do think the food was better though! Nico and I were introduced and the children were told they could ask us any questions they wanted to. Questions flew off their tongues, “Where are you from? How old are you? Do you have any siblings? What are their names? Are you married? Do you have kids? What is your favorite food? Do you have any hobbies?” It was amazing and hilarious. After dinner, the children sang a beautiful song for us and showed us some awesome dances. My “whiteness” showed through in my dance moves, but they accepted me anyway. Everyone was super happy and it was a great welcome. Nico and I looked at each other and proclaimed that we definitely made the right decision to visit Kilifi! We spent the rest of the evening talking to some of the children about Michael Jackson, Rhianna, and movies and then called it a night after a long day of traveling.

Dinner! Beans and rice with James and Elisha


The next day Lina and I headed to the Kilifi beach which was as beautiful as Diani beach, but without all the tourists and beach boys. We were even able to leave our stuff on the beach while swimming. After lunch, we headed into town for a look and some groceries. Kilifi had at least 40 tailors and I regret not having something made. We returned to the orphanage in time to help the children with homework and play some sports before dinner. I hung out with Robin who used an old tire to catapult himself into the air doing a variety of flips. It was super impressive. He tried to get me to give it a go, but I just couldn’t trust the tire or my front flipping ability!

No one’s here!


Might as well do some handstands!


Fun on the beach with Lina!


Robin sending flips off the tire “trampoline”


When more children returned from school, we started up a football (soccer) game. Because we only had about 4 players, the game was keep away, basically every player for himself. The boys stared in disbelief as I was able to take the ball from them and keep it from them. It’s always nice to show Kenyan males that women can play football too. With more players, we were able to shift into another type of game and by the time dinner rolled around, I was covered in sand and sweat! Since the children were eating small fish that night, which none of the volunteers liked, we headed out to the Kilifi club for dinner.

Battling David on the pitch. He was pretty good!


Um, we’ll pass on the small fish.


We decided we’d stay one more full day. I was having fun and Nico wasn’t feeling well, so it was the best option we had. Lina and I were up early to head to the beach. The weather was great and the tide was out, so we walked a few miles all the way down to Kilifi Bay. When we returned, we decided to head to the Distant Relatives Backpackers Hostel to check it out. It was run by Americans and I found out the girl was actually from Maryland, quite near where my husband is from. The eco-hostel had a beautiful common area and bar, composting toilets, outdoor showers, comfortable looking rooms, chickens and a pig, and two friendly dogs. We decided to check out the beach, which was on the very wide Kilifi Creek, not the Indian Ocean and one of the dogs joined us. She swam with us and when she was done, sat guard over our possessions. It was nice to have a pal. On the way back to town, we met a local woman who offered us a ride to town. It was a kind gesture and we accepted. It was probably one of the first times of the trip a Kenyan stranger had helped me without expecting anything in return.

New friend in Kilifi


When we returned to the orphanage, volleyball was the sport of the day and we had 3 large and competitive games before dinner. I announced our departure to the children at dinner. Part of me wanted to stay, but Nico needed to return to Nairobi and it was nice to have someone to make the long bus trip from Mombasa with. So, we reluctantly caught a matatu out of my favorite place of the trip early the next morning for the 8 hour bus ride back to Nairobi.

Hard to say good bye to cuties like this.

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Kenya Trip: South Coast

Diani Beach was recommended to us by some residents of Wildlife Works, so Dan and I hired Mama Mercy’s nephew Dennis to drive us down there the next morning. It was Friday and Dan had to depart for a safari on Sunday, so we wanted to make the most of his time there. The road trip was hilarious in that Dennis had a collection of songs on his MP3 player ranging from hip hop to country with the last set being all Pink songs. Awesome. We passed sisal plantations (the plant used to make roofs) and entered the Mombasa city limits. Americans were to be on alert in Mombasa since the Muslim population is high and it is somewhat close to Somalia. We cruised through the city center and had to catch a ferry across an inlet and then drive another hour south to Diani Beach.

Sisal plantations on the way to the coast – “green” roofing!

By the time we got there and settled into our lodging, we were ready to jump into the ocean. I can count on one had the times I’ve been to a warm coastal ocean – twice, so I was eager to test the Indian Ocean out. As we headed towards the water, we were approached by “Captain Banana” trying to sell us wooden carvings and a boat trip. We explained that we were going for a swim and headed out into the ocean. The waves were minimal since a reef protected the shore about ¼ mile out and the temperature was perfect so we attempted to swim to the reef and stayed out for about an hour. The salt concentration seemed higher too since it was really easy to float. When we returned to the beach, we were sure Captain Banana would be gone, but he was right there asking us to buy stuff again. Dan caved and bought something, but that just seemed to egg on other beach vendors who practically followed us to our hotel and then yelled at us from the beach. We were the new tourists in town and therefore the newest targets.

People selling stuff, including camel rides, on the beach.


Despite the infamous Diani “beach boys,” the beach itself was beautiful. White sand, turquoise water, perfectly compacted sand for running or football, and the hotels were set back quite a way. But there were quite a few hotels and we couldn’t help but walk through some of the more ridiculous looking ones. We entered the Baobob, a known Italian resort, and saw a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the ocean, as well as a poolside step aerobics class, and cheesy euro discotheque music playing somewhat loudly. Just an overall hilarious sight that is hard to describe and I unfortunately did not have my camera.
The next morning we took out SUPs and headed out to the reef to see if we could catch some waves. I surprised myself by catching and surfing the first wave I went for and it was awesome! Dan and I proceeded to catch and surf a bunch of waves and then headed in after about 2 hours. I’ve never had a surf break completely to myself and so it was quite fun for a beginner such as myself.
When we returned, Dan had to leave and I decided to take a kitesurfing lesson – a sport I’ve always admired. The first lesson is a trainer kite, but we moved through that quickly and were able to start with the big kite for the last hour. The wind was a bit sporadic and so we decided to finish the lesson if the wind picked up, which it didn’t for the next few days. So, I still have a lot to learn before I’m kiting on my own, but it was a nice start and a perfect learning beach.

Getting kite surfing instructions (and marriage proposals from my instructor – so weird).


I moved over to the South Coast Backpackers Hostel since Dan was gone. On TripAdvisor, it had quite the party reputation, but it was the least expensive option and close enough to the kiting center, so I gave it a go. Arriving, I selected a bunk and sat down with a friendly looking foursome who seemed to be around my age. I met Laura and Moses, Kenya locals and Masai Mara safari guides and their British friend Debs who was visiting. And also Simon, an eccentric but funny German firefighter, graffiti artist, skater, and retired hip hop DJ. Conversation was easy and an American named Nico joined our group. After dining and drinking together, Nico, Debs, Simon, and I hatched a plan to head out to the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Reserve the next day to look for dolphins, sea turtles, and maybe even whale sharks.
The next morning we had a $1 breakfast of eggs and Kenyan donuts and met up with our boat, a modified Dhow, which is an ancient Swahili sail boat, though unfortunately we never used the sail. As we motored out we spotted a pod of dolphins and were able to follow them most of the way to the marine reserve. We jumped off the boat when we reached the reef to snorkel and saw colorful and large fish, lobster, and an octopus. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any sea turtles or whale sharks, but it was still a lovely time in the ocean. We headed to Wasini Island for lunch, which is a coral island where almost everything has to be imported. Seafood and sea grass were on the menu before we took a quick tour of the island and them headed back to Shimoni. Unfortunately, on the way back to the hostel, Simon had to be dropped at the hospital because he wasn’t feeling well. Rumor is that he recovered a few days later, but unfortunately, I did not get his contact information.

Dolphin spotting from a dhow


Nico and Debs on the way to Wasini Island


Our transportation to the coral island for lunch


That night, Nico and I met Lina and Lena – Swedish and German girls respectably who were living in Kenya for about 6 months and volunteering at an orphanage on the North Coast in Kilifi. They invited us to join them for a few days and we eagerly accepted the opportunity to help out and see a new place. Debs, Moses, and Laura headed out on safari the next morning and we had one last swim in the sea and hostel’s pool before catching a matatu with Lina and Lena towards Mombasa. While Diani Beach was beautiful, the incessant haggling from the “beach boys” was starting to wear on us and we were eager to head to a less touristy locale.

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Kenya Trip: Wildlife Works

Our next trip was to a project called Wildlife Works – which is a REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) project about 6 hours southeast of Nairobi. Jen and Judi were invited by an employee based in San Francisco and jumped at the opportunity, since the project sounded interesting and relevant to their work with Zawadisha. In sustainability courses everywhere, the connection between increasing wealth and development and environmental destruction cannot be ignored. Wildlife Works seeks to protect forests and wildlife habitat and provide jobs and an economic stimulus for the local community. Therefore, by protecting lands they’re not pushing destruction elsewhere. We met with Cara, a young Brit, who gave us a tour. It seemed a lovely place to work every day. We walked through a screen printing area, a fabric scrap recycling center, 3 clothing production facilities that were buzzing with activity, an organic farm, a school for children of employees, and the lunch area for all employees. We had lunch, played football with some of the employees, and then were driven in an awesome safari vehicle to look for elephants. Quite a few elephants were living on the protected lands, but unfortunately we didn’t spot any. We only saw a few water buffalo and some dick dicks. Yep, that is a real animal’s name. They look like mini-deer.

A bustling clothing factory at Wildlife Works



Community seedling program at Wildlife Works

Looking for elephants from a radical safari vehicle.

Sunset at Rukinga WIldlife Preserve

While we visited Wildlife Works, we stayed at bandas (small huts) run by Mama Mercy, who was an early adopter of the environmental movement in Kenya. She had an amazing pack of African dogs living at her property as well as chickens and rabbits. We each had an individual banda with a bed, bug net, and bathroom. There were no showers though and we had to take traditional bucket showers where we were given warm water and had to shower ourselves with it. The highlight of staying with Mama Mercy was the food. Her traditional Kenyan coastal spread was delicious – for dinner we had beans, potatoes, chapatti, spicy salad, and tangawizi tea (ginger tea) and for breakfast we had omelets and andazis (Kenyan donuts). We stayed two nights and then Dan and I decided to make a quick escape to the coast, which we learned was only 2 hours away.

I asked Mama Mercy what kind of dogs these were and she replied “African Dogs”

African dogs are friendly just like the people!

Mama Mercy’s bandas

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Kenya Trip: Lake Naivasha

The fourth American member of our group rolled in and we headed to the main matatu station in the morning to catch a bus to Lake Naivasha. The matatu had an amazing interior and friendly patrons. I sat in the back with a family of 5 ranging from age 4 to 20. The 4 year old sat on my lap much of the ride and spoke to me in Swahili while I chatted with the college student about her pursuit of a degree in international business. This was my favorite matatu ride of the trip!

Snapped this shot before the matatu was fully loaded!


As we departed Nairobi, we had a great view of the Rift Valley, the birthplace of mankind. Making it to Naivasha, we had a $2 meal of chips masala (French fries with spices) and then were picked up by the son of the owner of the house we rented – a beautiful house with a view of Lake Naivasha from the roof patio.

Sunset from the roof patio over Lake Naivasha.

We made plans to bike in Hell’s Gate National Park the next day and do a boat safari the following day. Since we had Cindy, our plan was to eat traditional Kenyan meals each night. The first night we had Ugali, a favorite of many Kenyans. It is a finer and whiter version of polenta that you form into cups and eat vegetables with your hands. The 2nd night we had a chapati making party which is now my favorite Kenyan food – Ugali, not so much!

Cindy making ugali and Dan doing his best to help

We rented bikes on the road to Hells Gate to have our first National Park experience of the trip. National parks are expensive in Kenya and you pay in US dollars. This one was $25 per day. The bikes were $10 for the day, no deposit required and were a selection of Walmart and Kmart bikes. We were told if we got a flat tire or any other mechanical problem, just find another bike on the side of the road and take that one. HA!

The finest selection!


So, we were off on a 10 km ride past zebras, gazelles, water buffalo, and warthogs. We stayed on the lookout for giraffes, but didn’t see any and end our ride at a short hike into the gorge which was a bit disappointing in that there was trash in multiple places. I’d skip that if I were you!

Biking with Zebras


Beautiful zebras


In the Hell’s Gate Gorge


Biking back, we got to ride “brown pow” as the rain came down and didn’t stop until we were back at the park gate. The rain seemed to make the zebras shine though and in Africa rain is a blessing, so we were off to a great start.

Brown pow is a blessing


The next day we caught a boat out to Lake Naivasha to look for hippos. We spotted some right away and wondered if they’d attack us in our suspect vessel.

Shhhhh…. do not wake this guy up!


Being on the lake was beautiful, trees grew directly out of the water and the Africa sky reflected on the still water. We also spotted water buck which are really cute, wildebeest, water buffalo, and colorful birds.

Pretty scenic out here.


Just some super cute water bucks


The 1 hour boat safari was only about $8 per person and definitely worth it. Naivasha is a quick Nairobi get away that is definitely worthy of a visit.

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Kenya Trip: Nairobi Locals

Arriving in Nairobi around midnight, I took a taxi to Jen’s friend’s house in Loresho – an area of Nairobi. My driver was friendly and we discussed the current state of affairs and his family. The roads in Nairobi were much more modern than I remember and there were even traffic lights, though as far as I could tell, no one was abiding by them, which I later confirmed to be true. We passed a few large building, so billboards and clubs, and made our way towards Loresho – a quiet, mostly gated neighborhood where we’d stay while in Nairobi. The house was nice and very “Kenyan,” not much detail, just functional – bars over every entrance, buttons for hot water, outlets, and the stove, and hard, but practical beds.

The next day, the plan was to head to Eastlands for an event in the home of a member of Zawadisha and a seminar on empowerment. After a taste of a classic Nairobi traffic jam, we met up with Cindy, Zawadisha’s local employee, and Joyce, a woman supported by Zawadisha who runs a salon and made our way through a chaotic market to a matatu (colorfully decorated buses) stand to head to the outskirts of Nairobi.

When we arrived at Cecila’s house she had food on the table and we lingered over greetings. She was very proud of her house and her accomplishments and grateful for the help of Zawadisha. Other women were supposed to arrive shortly, but Africa time is even worse than Tahoe time so we ate without them and some showed up 2 hours late! The women were from 2 different lending circles and represented many different ages and businesses. They shared how they each used their loan and what it meant to be empowered. They shared their dreams and encouraged one another. They took us in as friends immediately. It rained hard during the end of our meeting and we were told it was a blessing. It gave me a whole new outlook on rain.

Zawadisha women drawing their version of empowerment

Proud and empowered small business owner!

We traveled home from Eastlands via a muddy dirt road and a very loud matatu and were caught in another rain storm as we dashed through Nairobi, trying to beat the dark. A rule of thumb in Nairobi is to never travel at night, so we grabbed a taxi back to Loresho with our new $1 umbrellas.

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