Nairobi, Sunday 31-7-77

To the beat of the bongo drums and chanting in a nearby church I pen these lines, for which I have been trying to find the energy and will for three days (since we arrived in Nairobi - and even before). You are well aware of how much self-discipline is required for writing when travelling, especially for a naturally contemplative soul like me. Although we arrived early in N., your letter of 18/7 was waiting for me at the GPO, along with one from Beth.

We came straight up through Masai-Mara from Serengeti because one of our Swiss had had various levels of fever for weeks. He is now in Kenyatta Hospital but they haven't determined his ailment ("possibly malaria"). I'm not so convinced about tropical diseases being understood in Africa.

Just now I'm supposed to be helping prepare food-packs for the 4 of us planning an assault on Kilimanjaro this week: a five-day hike from 5,000' to 19,000' and back, the top part in freezing conditions, usually accompanied by altitude sickness. An opportunity like that is not to be missed. We are to get a ride from here to the Tanzania border on Tuesday a.m., after which we are on our own. Four others are going to climb Mount Kenya (cheaper - no need for porters). The truck with the rest of the group is going up to collect them on Saturday and will then come down to collect up on Sun. I'll check for mail again before we leave.

Nairobi is something of an oasis in the middle of Africa - modern, westernised, with some remarkable modern architecture (esp. UN Environmental Centre which is more futuristic than Australia Square Tower) and with a big-city feel about it in spite of its manageable size. The P.O. was incredibly efficient (for Africa), it was dead easy to change money in the bank (dealing in the black market is said to be physically dangerous) and just about everything is available in the shops. The sort of thing one doesn't notice unless one has been deprived of almost all convenience for several months.

We are in a camping area about 15 km out of the city, which is rather a nuisance since it is only served by unreliable rickety old buses and opportunistic taxi-drivers. Restaurant meals are relatively cheap. We gorged ourselves the other day to the point of illness at a buffet lunch in a city hotel for c. $2. I expect the price has gone up since. For about the same price in a butcher's shop you can buy a kilo of good steak - quite a treat after dehyd. beef strog. and dehyd. onions! Some of our number have moved to city hotels to clean up and enjoy the nightlife. I think I'll wait till RSA to go soft again.

I posted letter 8 in Kigali, after which we travelled in comfort on a good-quality sealed Chinese road through Aust.-like rounded hills with low trees all the way to the Tanzanian border, where we crossed to the left-hand side of the road, got free or $4 visas (the Commonwealth is still worth something) and headed through barren, tsetse-infested areas to the more fertile cotton lands south of L. Victoria.

Saw another pink-painted overland truck which convinced us more than ever that EO was the right choice, even if it cost several hundred £ more. Someone said their southbound driver absconded with the funds in Kano, and a passenger drove on to JHB. Someone else denied it later but in any case the truck was a junkheap which had broken down every day since RSA. They were two weeks late.

Tanzanian villagers seemed quite keen to be photographed, in contrast to Zaireans (opposed) and Rwandans (indifferent). Primary school is run in Swahili, secondary school in English. The few good English-speakers we met seemed v. pleased with Nyrere and his African socialism and convinced of the righteousness of the "liberation" movements they are supporting in southern Africa.

We got double rates on the black market at Mwanza and camped by the shores of L. Victoria with millions of mosquitoes, 120 years since Burton and Speke were there and just over 100 years (so short is the Europeans' history in Africa) since Stanley's circumnavigation.

Serengeti was quite fun - (the first day of game viewing usually is). We rolled back the canopy of the truck and sat about like monkeys on the bars. Saw all the usual things (as usual, in the singular, though they were legion): giraffe, Cape buffalo, hyena, wildebeest, warthog, various gazelles and impala, baboon, jackal, vultures, storks, pelicans and some male lions, so distended by their just-finished feast that they could barely walk.

Stayed in a "campsite" near Seronera Lodge, beautifully architected around a rocky knoll ("kopje" or "little head" in Afrikaans), host also to tribes of hyraxes - like overgrown guinea-pigs, but said to be the elephant's closest relative in all the world! After a meal in the Lodge restaurant, we returned to camp to find an elephant had knocked over a 40' acacia tree just 50 yards from our tents, and the perpetrator was still standing by the scene of the crime. It really made us a little nervous. After a night rent by the sounds of jackal and lion (they never, apparently, enter tents), we discovered the tree had been uprooted holus-bolus, as they say. Next day we saw whole plains of destroyed trees - it is apparently quite a problem.

Saw a pride of female lions who passed within 20 yeards of us, looking very businesslike - only wish I had a longer lens - and later in Masai-Mara were even charged by a trumpeting elephant, jealous of his family's privacy. Thankfully, he pulled up with his ears flapping a couple of hundred yards away while the driver was still fumbling with the starter.

Saw another beautiful lodge with whole walls made up of natural rocks, perched on top of a hill overlooking a vast game-filled plain. Magnificent for a restful holiday.

We passed into Kenya without benefit of Immigration (got visas in 5 min. in Nairobi - UK, NZ cost nothing, Aust. $3 - Commonwealth is not worth much!) and saw more animals and, more interesting still (but all but impossible to photograph) Masai tribespeople, with ornamented earlobes stretching almost to their shoulders, torsos of women almost covered with beads, and calves with rings. Some of the young men have dyed (henna?) short hair. Saw several hippo heads in muddy water. Crossed beautiful plains of "Rift" past tiny volcanoes and up a steep "Escarpment" to the cold 5,000' plateau on which Nairobi is situated.

First sight of Col. Sander's finger-lickin' stand raised a big cheer. More vulgar hash-smoking Australians in camp after 6-mth trip from LND. They spent several months on a beach in Cameroon and contracted every conceivable disease.