Rift Valley Sunrise

I am not a morning person. Not at all.

But at Samich Resort in Nyaru, a place I insist on going every time we’re in Kenya, I always wake up to watch the sunrise.

Mornings in Nyaru are beautiful. There’s something magical about 8,000 feet altitude. The air is clear and calm. The views are spectacular. You feel like you’re on top of the world. Literally and figuratively.

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[Away from] Home for the Holidays: Reflections on Christmases Spent Across Oceans

Some memories, in pictures and words, from Christmases spent in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France; Fez, Morocco; and Kisumu, Kenya. One month past Christmas isn’t too late for a Christmas post, is it? 🙂

As countless Christmas songs and Hallmark movies remind us, home is the place to be for the holidays. “For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.” And yeah, you kind of can’t. Without baking Christmas cookies with my grandmother at her house, without hanging stockings over my parents’ fireplace, and without my mother’s Christmas Eve beef wellington feast or our annual Christmas morning family brunch after transforming the living room into a sea of wrapping paper, Christmas just doesn’t feel quite like Christmas. But we all grow up, and maybe we live overseas for a time, or we get married and have a whole new second family to split holiday time with. I’ve spent three out of the past nine Christmases far, far away from my home town. Something felt a little off about those three Christmases… and yet, not in a bad way, for they have remained my most memorable Christmases. There’s no place like home for the holidays, and there’s also no place like not home for the holidays.

Christmas 2009 in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France

There was a frosty train ride north from Paris. There was a buche de Noel cake, log shaped and hiding tiny treasures, and festive table settings made by my host family’s kids. Their grandmother cooked all day and we ate like kings, and the kids put their shoes out at night to be filled with candy and gifts by morning. We made a snowman and came inside and the grandmother made us the most amazing hot chocolate I have ever had. It tasted like a scrumptious Swiss chocolate bar melted straight into a cup of hot cream, and maybe that’s what it was. There was a walk through a grove of snow-decked pine trees to midnight mass at a tiny old stone church. And there were World War I monuments rising out of fields still pockmarked with the craters of century-old shells.

Christmas 2014 in Fez, Morocco

There were twinkling strings of lights on orange trees across the border in Ceuta, Spain. There was a university strike in Tetouan, doors barricaded and guarded by students, classes cancelled, and a sudden day off on December 25th. There was a bus ride through rolling mountains, through blue Chefchaouen, to Fez, where the air was icy cold but indoors it was toasty warm and we cooked pasta and exchanged gifts while Handel’s Messiah played in the background. There’s no Christmas in Morocco, but there was for the six or seven of us in that dar in the Fez Medina. There were roof terrace views, mountains in the distance, walks through winding medina paths dodging donkey carts and tea kettles and leather goods, and a cozy fire in the Ruined Garden Cafe.

Christmas 2017 in Kisumu, Kenya

There was a road trip from Eldoret to Kericho to Kisumu, big family piled into two cars, stopping for tea and mandazi and scenic overlooks along the way. Family outings are a common way of celebrating Christmas in Kenya. “Like the first Christmas,” my grandfather, a pastor, said. “Think about it. Everyone was on the road.” The national park was full to capacity, with lines stretching far out the gate, so we skipped it. We took a boat ride on Lake Victoria and ate whole grilled tilapia with ugali and sukumawiki on a hilltop overlooking the lake. It was eighty plus degrees and felt like July. On the drive home, everyone was out, happy people walking along the side of the road, kids in fancy new Christmas outfits, young men who’d done a little too much partying, and families like ours heading home. Everyone outside on the road under the moon on that warm, warm Christmas night.

Getting to Know Nairobi, Little by Little

Nairobi.

Huge, sprawling, urban, fascinating, enticing, intimidating.

I’m at least 85% sure I’ll end up living here someday.

I don’t know much about Nairobi yet. But we’re getting acquainted, Nairobi and I, cautiously, little by little.

And I think I like it here.

A few things I’ve figured out so far:

  • There is a gigantic national park full of animals within the city. How cool is that?!
  • Malls are a popular hangout spot, whether for shopping or a movie or meeting up at a nice cafe for tea, dinner, or drinks. The suburban 90s kid in me is very much okay with this.
  • Traffic ranges from easy-peasy-breezy to mindblowingly horrific.

Here are a few snapshots from around Nairobi:

 

Nyayo Park, and a monument in the park

 

A display of gourds just inside the Nairobi National Museum. I definitely recommend this museum for a crash course on Kenyan history, from distant past through colonial era and independence to the present! There are botanical gardens and a snake park adjacent to the museum, and while I’m no fan of snakes, I did enjoy watching giant turtles stroll along.

 

We did some Christmas shopping and enjoyed black forest cake and dawa (hot water with lemon, ginger, and honey- AMAZING when you’re feeling under the weather after a long flight) at Java House in one mall, uber’d over to another mall to watch The Last Jedi, then met some friends for dinner at yet another mall before heading home after midnight.

Zebra Crossing

I know, I know, I JUST wrote about American stereotypes about Kenya and yes, I still want to post pictures of sights and scenes in Kenya that go beyond the safari brochure snapshots people automatically think of.

But here are two zebras along the side of a highway, near Nakuru. I just couldn’t resist. Because zebras are awesome and who doesn’t want to see more pictures of zebras? (Picture a bit blurry because I snapped it from a bus window.)

I once saw two tourists in Harvard Yard taking picture after picture of some squirrels and looking so excited and captivated by the little animals. I wondered what in the world was so interesting about a squirrel, a common ordinary squirrel that I see thirty of in a day. This is probably how the other passengers on the bus felt when they saw me taking pictures of those zebras.

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Kericho Tea Fields

I have a theory that the world can be divided into tea countries and coffee countries. Tea drinkers and coffee drinkers. Americans, bet you know which one the U.S. is! Anyway, back before I knew much about Kenya, I thought Kenya was more of a coffee country than a tea country. I suppose those signs in American coffee shops gave me this idea – “Try our new medium roast from Kenya!” – and Kenya definitely does have a coffee industry. But tea is actually a bigger cash crop there, as well as most people’s hot beverage of choice. Go to someone’s house and you can guarantee that you will be offered a hot cup of tea. It’s hospitality 101. Black tea with milk and sugar is the usual go-to. Sometimes masala spice is added, giving a delicious chai sort of flavor. On our most recent Kenya trip, we stopped in Kericho, a town famous for its many surrounding tea fields. To be honest, I’d actually never seen tea in its pre-made-into-tea-bags state. (The hubs laughed at my city-girl self about that one!) The tea fields are expansive, lush, and green. When you look around, you just see tea, tea, tea for miles around, and clusters of little reddish-roofed houses, home to those who work in these fields. The air smells so fresh and clear.

I’m sharing these photos mainly because I like sharing pictures of scenes you might not automatically think of when you think of Kenya. Someone told me recently that they pictured dry, almost desert-like landscapes when they thought of Kenya. Personally I know I used to think of zebras and giraffes! The reality is that Kenya is a gorgeous, geographically diverse country that doesn’t fit in a box. So here are some lovely tea fields.

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Road Tripping Kenya: And now, a photo series entitled “Cute Farm Animals Obstructing Traffic”

In Harvard Square, Cambridge, drivers know that they don’t rule the road. Absentminded jaywalking college students do. Between Kabarnet and Lake Bogoria, the road belongs to the local farm animals, and drivers may use it too, after some patient waiting and, when necessary, some impatient honking. Needless to say, these were some of my favorite photos from our Lake Bogoria road trip.

Cows blocking the road:

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Sheep blocking the road:

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Goats blocking the road:

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Donkeys blocking the road:

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More cows blocking the road:

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A sheep lying in the middle of the road just livin’ that chill sheepy life, man:

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And last but not least, a mother sheep nursing her twin lambs in the middle of the road:

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Road Tripping Kenya: Eldoret to Lake Bogoria

I don’t have any pictures of Eldoret up on my blog… I guess because I use this as a space to post travel photos/stories and Eldoret is more in the “home” category than the “travel” category. But my in-laws and I took some awesome road trips in Kenya this summer, and I was all about the paparazzi-ing on those excursions.

Here is one photo I took in Eldoret, though. It’s a weaver bird’s nest! We don’t have these in the States, as far as I know. What a beautiful work of art!

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We piled about twelve people into two cars and hit the road. Our destination: The hot springs of Lake Bogoria.

We saw some prickly pear along the side of the road and it reminded me of Morocco:

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That tall brown thing that looks like a tree trunk is- believe it or not- an anthill. And yes, that is an ostrich walking by it! In this area, you can buy a particular type of dark-tinted honey from roadside stands. This honey has a unique taste and doesn’t come from bees, but from the ants that inhabit these giant anthills. It is used more for medicinal purposes than for sweetening.

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Here’s some more scenery I snapped along the way. Kenya is so gorgeous, right??

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We stopped for lunch at a hotel in a town called Kabarnet. I was excited for this because why would I not be excited to eat lunch in a town that sounds like my favorite red wine. We ordered 3 kg of meat, and it arrived on scrumptiously beautiful platters surrounded by ugali, sukuma wiki (sauteed greens) and other veggies, and potatoes (boiled and then fried, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside).

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Another picture I snapped from the front passenger seat. Yep, those cows know they rule the road!

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When we finally thought we’d reached Lake Bogoria, we had to take a much longer drive than we expected, over a much bumpier dirt road than we expected, to get to the hot springs. It was the rainy season and the good road was under water. I wasn’t sure our little rental car was going to make it, but it pulled through! Along the way, we spotted a lovely rainbow…

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… and some pink flamingoes!

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At last we reached the hot springs! We had just enough time to boil eggs in them (yes, you read that right! So cool!) before it started raining and we had to flee back to our cars.

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Nature is pretty awesome.

Stay tuned for one more Road Tripping Kenya post. (And more the next time we go, for sure! Maybe some day I’ll actually buy a car and road trip the U.S. too.)