Chapter x – A Trip on the
AN UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITY
While I was consulting for JP Morgan I had my hands involved in other
projects outside of JP Morgan. These projects ranged from a startup with a file
distribution product to seminar development and working on technology
standards committees. These three activities lead to an interesting experience.
By the spring of 1989 I was less involved in the product side of the startup
and became more of an advisor with an agreement that I would lead any
professional services business stemming from product sales. The first
opportunity came in the form of a one day seminar around the state of the
networking industry. This was purely from a technology view and the audience
was two people from a key reseller based in South Africa.
I decided to take a gamble and have the seminar in the basement of my house,
which I used for business at times. The lighting was perfect, I had a white
board, tables and chairs. Everything went perfectly, the day was nice, breakfast
and lunch went without a hitch and the informal atmosphere made for a very
Upon wrapping up we spoke about the potential of creating a larger scope
session in South Africa. I was interested; however felt that it was not likely to
occur. Many people have great ideas, but few follow up on them for various
reasons and at the time I didn’t get the sense that these guys would take the
chance on something this large.
Just to put this in the proper context, at the time South Africa was under
sanctions due to their Apartheid policies. Apartheid (which means segregation
in the Afrikaans language spoken in part of South Africa), was a system of
legalized racial segregation and in practice was used by some to legitimatize
Now I do have to say that the media in the US had painted the situation in
South Africa as being very unstable with quite a bit of violence. Having said
that, the climate for change was there and it was inevitable that Apartheid as a
policy was soon to be something for history books. It remained to be seen how
the dismantling of Apartheid as a practice would unfold.
Little business was conducted and few people supported any business contact
with South Africa during this period. So I did not think about this much after
that one day session, until about 2 months later.
The startup I was helping was contacted by their South African reseller with a
proposal for myself and one of the founders. They would host a 4 day seminar
in Johannesburg and pay for all marketing, conference facilities, our plane fare
and a substantial speaker’s fee. All we needed to do was to develop 4 days
worth of course material and come for a week.
The seminar was to be the first racially integrated technology seminar in
South African history. It didn’t take much for me to say yes to that opportunity.
Immediately after hearing about this trip, my older brother’s friends began to
object to this trip as being the wrong thing to do, on the verge of being immoral,
etc. Of course they never bothered to look deeper to understand the positive
aspects of the trip.
Going to South Africa to conduct this seminar would violate the sanctions that
the US had against South Africa, yet I had always felt that this was a great
opportunity to set an example on how we all could contribute to break down the
walls of injustice. Having a racially mixed audience and marketing it as such in
South Africa in 1989 was something I thought was a very cool way of helping
To this day my brother’s friends never bothered to understand why I set out to
do this nor have they ever asked or realize that this seminar was meant to mark a
new beginning for the technology industry in South Africa. But at this point in
my life I was getting used to people not understanding my motivations and
PLANNING A DREAM
In the negotiations of the contract we were able to obtain business class travel
round trip. With business class I was able to setup my air travel to enable me to
arrange time to spend several days at stopovers of my choice without incurring
additional airfares. My imagination began to go wild.
I thought back to my days as a boy talking to my dad about adventures and
exploring the world like many of the people I read about. Names like Lewis and
Clark, David Livingston, Edmund Hillary and Teddy Roosevelt always came up
in our conversations. Likewise many myths and legends did as well.
As a boy I had many dreams of adventures but that is where they stayed, as
dreams and in my past. Just the dreams of a naïve boy with an overactive
imagination. Until now.
Sure at that point in my life I had been on a number of adventures, chased
some legends and certainly had done more than most people, but this was
different. With no travel expenses and a nice fee for speaking, I had carte
blanch to let my imagination go wild in one of the wildest places on earth.
Now all I needed to do was to make up my mind on the what and where of the
As I thought about this trip and talked to my family, I felt myself changing. A
large part of me was being overtaken by that wide eyed boy with the over active
I eventually decided that I would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in
Africa. Mt. Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania and would make for an amazing
adventure. I had heard that the view of the sunrise at the summit is something
that transcends what we conventionally believe is natural beauty.
Things were set, I found my guide through my network of scientists so I was
as comfortable with the safety as possible. Again with the help of my network I
was well versed in the vaccinations and of course the risks around wildlife,
The only issue that came up was that Kenya and Tanzania banned visas for
travelers who visited South Africa. If your passport had South Africa stamped
in it, you would not be allowed to enter the country. I decided to by-pass that by
having the South African embassy issue me a special visa which would then
become my official transit papers. This eliminated the need to have my passport
stamped since the visa effectively served the purpose of the passport.
As the date neared, I began to get some serious pressure from my family on
this trip. They accepted my going to South Africa and leading the seminar,
however I received no support in my “side trip” ideas. In fact it was quite the
contrary, except my dad who remained quiet. I will never forget the day my
older brother came to me to lecture me on the stress I was giving my mother in
considering such a trip, and why I can’t be “normal” like everyone else.
I was very dismayed after this. My mom was always a worrier, which is why
I generally didn’t tell her (or anyone else in my family) about my adventures. In
fact the last story that was openly discussed in my family was of the encounter
with the bear in the Catskills with my brother.
But the reality was (and still is) that I am not “normal” and never will be. My
dad always realized this and accepted it. In many ways my dad felt that because
I was not “normal” I was able to do almost anything. His confidence shaped me
and made me look for challenges, however on the flip side it also shaped me into
a person who has a difficult time dealing with routine living.
I did, however, began to scale my trip back and look at other “side trips” that
were more conventional. My family voted for Victoria Falls, which I certainly
would love to see sometime in my life, but given that this may be my only trip to
Africa I wanted more.
Eventually my plan was to fly to London and spend a day exploring the city,
fly to Johannesburg, spend some time in a game preserve near the city, give the
seminar, fly to Nairobi, Kenya and drive (with a guide) to the north side of Mt.
Kilimanjaro, but not cross over into Tanzania. The trip will be about 170 or so
miles and having a guide was especially needed since about half of the trip
would be off road.
Once again my family objected, though my dad approached me with the
thought of coming with me. He eventually backed off but I made it very clear
that that having him along would be really great. I knew I could not change his
mind but the look in his eyes when he thought about it reminded me of where
my adventurous side came from.
To calm my other family members, I decided to tell them I was going to a
resort in Kenya and showed them brochures of the luxury tours operating out of
Europe and did not tell them that I hired my own guide to explore where I
wanted. This got them off my back, but I was lectured yet again anyway.
I was finally all set and ready to go, except for the seminar. The final 4 or 5
weeks prior to the trip I labored on the seminar and the materials. After
countless hours creating, editing, revising, etc, etc I was done. I completed all
the final work on it with about 2 days to spare.
ARE WE THERE YET?
The day had finally arrived for my flight. There were no direct flights to
South Africa so I would have 2 stopovers, each time changing planes. I would
fly British Airways (BA) on the red-eye to London, spend 12 hours there, fly
BA again to Nairobi on a red-eye with a 2 hour stop over and then to
Johannesburg. I left New York on a Saturday and would arrive in Johannesburg
on Monday morning.
The flight to London was uneventful, I took in a movie (can’t remember
what), slept for about an hour or two and listened to music. As I drifted in and
out of consciousness I kept hearing a song by Poison over and over again. Of
course I thought I would never forget it, but as I write this I can’t remember
which Poison song it was.
I arrived in London for the first time and had 12 hours on a Sunday to go see
some sights and have some fun. I’ve decided in the organization of this chapter
to not include most of the London trip and to dedicated a separate chapter on the
various stories I had while visiting London so many times. Just a note that my
12 hours were well spent and I met some interesting people.
One highlight I will mention about London was my trip to see Westminster
Abbey. I was always fascinated with the Abbey and its history, architecture and,
well dead historical people. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I
walked around marveling at the design of the building and significance of each
My brain began to drift a bit and my imagination took over. I stood not too
far from the main entrance point, looking south toward Africa. I began to
wonder what it will be like to be out in the jungle. I stood there for quite
sometime when I looked down and saw that I was standing on the memorial to
David Livingston, who was also buried there. I was overcome with an amazing
feeling of adventure and excitement.
Well that feeling soon turned to hunger and I left the Abbey wondering if I
would ever see it again. Little did I know how many times I would visit during
the next 15 years.
This may sound strange, but being in the Abbey was inspirational for me then
and in many ways each time I go back and visit it has the same effect on me.
When I brought my girls to the Abbey when they were 12 and 8 it seemed to
have a similar effect on them.
Unlike some museums that showcase art, historical events and artifacts, I
found that the Abbey showcased a connection with the people who made that
history come alive. Sure I could read a book on any one of the people who are
either buried there or memorialized, but to me there was and still is a connection
It feels like having a personal connection with some of the greatest scientists,
writers, philosophers and thinkers that ever lived. Its almost like their spirits are
still there interacting with your subconscious mind.
I began to walk down Whitehall Street toward Trafalgar Square to search for
something to eat. I decided that I will sample “real” English food and visit a
Pub. I’ve certainly made many mistakes in my life and that was definitely one
Since I was walking around for about 4 hours and I was hungry and thirsty I
was ready to settle for almost anything. As I was walking along near Trafalgar
Square, I noticed the Sherlock Holmes Pub. Being a fan of the character, I
decided that would certainly be a good place to go. And since I was hungry and
wanted “real” English food, I might as well have shepherd’s pie for lunch.
After sampling a bit of the pie, I decided that was a mistake so I did not eat
any more and just drank my ale. After a couple more hours I headed back to the
airport and subsequently became very ill from the food I ate. Naturally I started
becoming a bit nervous since my flight was very soon and being sick on a plane
was a nasty thought.
I made my way to the business class lounge and rested while drinking some
sparkling water. Eventually things settled down for me, but I was very
physically wiped out. I dragged myself to the plane at boarding time and waited
to board until the last possible minute.
I fell asleep almost immediately and drifted in various states of consciousness
for the entire trip. After a long flight we finally arrived in Nairobi for the final
stop over and a plane change.
I have no memory of this stop over since I was still half asleep. I do
remember that upon boarding the next plane I was assigned a seat in the upper
deck of a 747. It was the worst seating I have ever had on a flight, despite it
being business class. It was stuffy and very tight with no movie screens or
headsets for listening to music.
We took off in the middle of the night and I again slept a bit, though I kept
waking up constantly, not sleeping for more than about 20 minutes at a time.
The flight was uneventful but still seemed very long.
I finally arrived in Johannesburg on Monday morning. Needless to say I was
a bit tired, however I was excited since Monday was the day I would spend time
exploring in a game reserve and then a brief reception. I decided that sleep was
My host met me at the airport and took me to the conference center to show
me around. It was very impressive with the main room able to seat about 300
people. We looked around briefly, ate a nice breakfast and went to check in at
The hotel was nice, not overly luxurious but definitely a good place to stay in
a safe area of the city. I quickly checked in and changed since I was to be taken
on a short trip to a game reserve just outside the city. I was certainly looking
forward to this.
A MOMENT THAT LASTED FOREVER
The game reserve was fairly small, certainly not as big as Kruger (which is
probably the most recognized reserve in South Africa). Being a privately
managed game reserve I expected it to be just a little more wild than a zoo but
still no potential contact between humans and animals.
We traveled on a dirt road through the park and saw some interesting animals,
guinea fowl, an ostrich and other small animals. We did get out of the car a
number of times to take pictures or just look around, never in areas where any
larger animals could be hiding and always had the car close by.
At one point we stopped to get out of the car once again, this time the
visibility was more limited. It was early afternoon, and we had not seen any
large game at that point. It was interesting seeing the variety of plants, flowers
and animals, but I was also tired at that point and was ready to go back to my
I continued to walk around until I got a strange sense of danger. I looked at
my guide and he motioned with his eyes to look to my left. It was a lion’s pride
about 100 yards away. The male was about a bit further away and all of them
were laying down, sort of chilling out.
I slowly took my camera out and started to take some pictures. I turned
toward my guide and realized he had gone back to the car without me. As I
turned toward the car, something caught the corner of my eye. A lone lioness
prowling around and about 15 yards up wind from me. The breeze was mildly
strong so I suspected that she had not realized I was there, at least would not
have caught my scent.
Naturally the first thing I did was freeze and think about what I should do.
My guide was smart enough not to start the car nor make any sudden moves or
noises. My second reaction was to get at least one picture as I still had the
I took one picture and hoped it would come out. I slowly back away to the
car, not turning my back on the lioness, who either did not realize I was there or
figured a 500 pound wildebeest would be more appetizing than a 170 pound
In either case it didn’t matter to me as after what it seemed like an eternity, I
finally got to the car and jumped in. As I closed the car door, the lioness turned
her head to look at us and then walked away.
An interesting experience, though would not recommend trying it. The
seriousness of this hit home to me when I returned to the hotel. The local news
reported that someone was killed by a lion that day in another park while hiking.
For the remaining days I spent in South Africa I politely declined offers to take
me on additional trips outside the city. I began to have doubts about the entire
CHALLENGING MY PURPOSE
Upon returning back to the hotel in the late afternoon I quickly cleaned up and
dressed for a reception that night. The reception was sort of a kick off event for
the seminar. It would be drinks and hors d'oeuvres only and would be about 2
hours, after that I would join my hosts for dinner at a nice restaurant.
The reception area was certainly huge with free flowing drinks and a nice
variety of hors d'oeuvres. The food was very similar to what you would find at a
typical executive level reception in New York. The differences were primarily
in the preparation, but over all it was quite good.
Of course since I was one of the two speakers at this event, much attention
revolved around us, a very uncomfortable position for me as I never did well in
crowds (and still do not). My thought was to keep the conversation on the
trends in IT and some of the exciting changes I foresee happening in the next 5
years or so.
That was not to be. Through the entire reception I kept being asked about
South African politics and the implications of dismantling Apartheid. I have to
admit that I was very intimidated and wanted to crawl somewhere and hide. I
guess part of this was due to the long trip, part due to the lion I encountered a
few hours prior and part was that I just didn’t want to confront this issue.
But I began to think about this a bit. I mean, what did I expect from this? I
agreed to come down and promote a new beginning for the South African
technology sector. Did I really expect that people were going to accept this
without at least some debate?
I then decided that this is really a great opportunity to have some of these
people explain and defend their pro-Apartheid stance and look to potentially
refute some of that thinking using examples from other countries that I have
visited where things are more of a level playing field.
As it turned out, I did not have much of an opportunity to refute as I spent
most of the time listening to people debate this topic from both sides. Much of
the pro side arguments were based on fear of losing everything they had worked
I could certainly understand that fear, however I pointed out that in theory one
could achieve equality through an evolution of change that allows fair
competition among individuals and companies based on quality and value, not
based on race. No one could dispute that, though the key was in the execution
of such a transition, which is easier said than done.
Just a note from the present, though I no longer keep in contact with anyone
from South Africa, I have found that the IT industry is thriving and heard that
many of those people I met in 1989 are substantially better off now than back
then. Always remember that change opens opportunities to those who embrace
There were two or three people in the group I was with brought up what they
called the “genetic factor”. To them, whites were genetically superior and the
blacks were not capable of anything other than menial tasks. I had no idea on
how to answer that, and neither did many of the people in this group, even those
who were pro-apartheid.
To this day I think back on that moment. The people who said that did not
have hate in their eyes, in fact all of the waiters were black and these people
treated the waiters with a polite respect, though with an air of superiority. I have
encountered many people who are elitist, but none believe that they genetically
better due to race. They tend to believe that in the genetic pureness of their
I guess that discriminatory practices are fueled by many different sources with
many different reasons, some for ethnic background, some for gender and some
for race. Bottom line is that none of this moves humanity in a positive direction,
it only serves to divide us all and the common good goes unserved.
One thing that I have learned over the years is that making judgments about
people is not a good way to live your life. People either fit into your life or they
don’t. They can fit into your life as a friend, co-worker, spouse, etc. It’s ok not
to like someone, but dwelling on it causes you to lose valuable time. After all,
life is too short to focus on anything other than positive things.
This was a good start to this event as even though there was debate, I found it
was open and both sides listened. And it was good to see that the people with
the extreme views were few and was not able to influence anyone else or gain
support, in fact it was quite the opposite.
At the end of the reception there were no startling revelations, no grand
conclusions and not much more than an education in human behavior for me. I
did consider it a successful night in that everyone voiced their opinions in a
civilized manner and for the rest of the conference we turned our focus on
moving the IT industry forward in a South Africa without Apartheid.
That night I went to a nice restaurant with my hosts for a fine dining
experience. The food was not unusual and the preparation was European
influenced. The atmosphere and décor was warm and not unlike many of the
better restaurants in New York. We had South African wine (naturally) and it
At dinner my host (Mike) brought several of his key people with their
spouses. Much of the dinner we spoke about lifestyle in the US contrasting that
with South Africa. Now I don’t mean shopping for designer items or anything
like that. It was more about things we liked to do, family things and life in
Things were not that much different between us. We all had the same
concerns for the future; all liked traveling and eating out. I think we touched on
every subject except for music. The people were very warm, outgoing and with
that atmosphere (and some wine), I also began to open up and talk more than I
We then went into a discussion around changes in South Africa. Mike saw
great injustice but also great opportunities as they evolved themselves socially.
He believed that embracing that change and even pushing it gently would be
best for the common good. Along the way he had his own way of gently
pushing equality though training, employing and partnering. And of course our
seminar was part of that.
The seminar was marketed and executed in a delicate balance so no one felt
threatened but a statement was made nonetheless. And I’d say most people who
attended walked away with very good value and found it worthwhile to
One of Mike’s key people was a woman who was extremely anti-apartheid
and very aggressive about it. She believed in revolutionary change, while Mike
believed evolutionary change was more sustainable. Mike was very pragmatic
about this and felt that the momentum toward positive changes was unstoppable
even though one needed to push it along every so often.
It was really interesting to see the dynamics between them as they discussed
this topic, the rate of change and what those changes should be. Looking back
now it certainly appears that the answer lied somewhere in the middle of their
views, though perhaps a bit closer to Mike’s.
There’s an old saying that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make
him drink”. I’ve always believed that, however about 15 years ago I changed it
to “when you lead the horse, go slowly and convince him he is thirsty, in the end
he will lead you to the water and drink since it was his idea.” I think that sums
up Mike’s approach. Create a need before showing the solution.
After dinner we went back to my hotel and sat around talking for quite some
time in the bar. Around midnight or so I decided I needed some sleep so I
thanked my hosts and turned in for the night. I felt like I had been up for a
couple of days so I passed out quickly.
A NEW BEGINNING
The next morning I overslept, though it was not too bad as I was not
scheduled to speak that day. I was picked up at my hotel mid-morning and we
went to the seminar venue. I had not eaten so the staff was nice enough to bring
out a selection of pastries and coffee for me.
About 11AM Mike came around and was looking for me. He told me that my
counterpart was running way ahead of schedule and needed some fill time.
They wanted me to fill in for an hour or two immediately following lunch. I
agreed without hesitation.
I suddenly remembered that all of my notes were back at the hotel and we
didn’t have enough time to go back and get them. Mike wanted me to stay for
lunch and mingle, so I needed to improvise. Not a problem, but I did need to
know the context of the current speaker’s presentation since I did not want to
appear disconnected with the topic.
I sat through the last half hour of his presentation and at the same time began
to write an outline of what I would need to address. I heavily leveraged the
material I had for my two days of the seminar, knowing that this will impact my
timing and I would need to stretch things a bit as well. I decided that I would
sneak off during lunch and find a quiet place to get more organized.
Well that was not to be. As would be the norm for all four days, lunch was
spent interacting with the audience. Now normally I would find this difficult,
however Mike helped me a bit by “seeding” a discussion where I was an equal
participant rather than the primary focus. This was a great technique and since
that day, it’s something I always look to do in large groups.
It’s funny that I do enjoy public speaking, but still can’t function well in large
crowds in a more social setting. So many people I know look to be the center of
attention in large groups, I look to blend in and perhaps slip away. I admit that
if I do get going, it’s hard to stop me.
Needless to say I did not slip away this time. I spent the entire lunch break
engaged in several group discussions and didn’t have much time to eat. That
was a big disappointment and if you had tasted the food you would certainly
understand why I say that.
So I had to improvise a bit more than I expected. I created a couple of slides
and decided to put them up and start talking. I began talking about a new
beginning, not just for South Africa but for the global Information Technology
industry. We were on the verge of a substantial change in how we used IT and
more importantly how IT would virtually shrink the globe.
I did not talk about Internet technologies since the changes were not driven by
technologies. The change was coming about due to a rethinking of what we all
expected from technology, from both a business and a personal view.
The business view would certainly provide a leading indicator, however
online bulletin boards were already prevalent with dial up connections. These
services allowed us to connect and interact with each other in a primitive way,
with both chat and e-mail available on some services. Even back then, social
behavior was influencing technology. Of course that has expanded significantly
since then and what we see today in blogs, wikis, IM, etc. are all an evolution of
the technologies from back then.
In the times that I have improvised speeches or presentations I would end
with some wild predictions just for fun. This time I did want to make a more
grounded point about messaging. In my wrap-up I talked about messaging
being far more than simple e-mail. I predicted that in 10 years, messaging
would grow to be the most dominate way of moving data around networks. I
was not far off.
We took a break after my talk and walked out to the reception area to find one
of the most amazing displays of pastries just in time for a nice afternoon tea.
With all the great food in South Africa, the memory of my first meal in
London was soon forgotten.
I have to admit that the next two days were not very memorable. It was my
turn to get on the stage and speak. This time I was fully prepared, had great
material with more than enough information on my topic. Oh I guess I never
mentioned my topic. My two day session was about technologies and
architectures to support global messaging. Included in that was technologies
that supported messaging such as directory services and security.
Previous to this trip I did a few seminars, though not this long and had given a
few speeches. My approach to this one was that I needed to be very organized
and structured to ensure I could provide the right balance of depth and breathe of
The problem I had was that I felt like I was overly constrained by the material
and my own organization. In a sense it was too organized with no room to be
dynamic or any ability to improvise.
In all honesty I was absolutely boring and a recording of my session could
easily be used as a cure for insomnia.
A few weeks after I was home I received the results from the anonymous
feedback. It definitely reflected what I believed. People rated my improvised
two hour talk very high in interest and rated my two day very organized session
as, well boring. I did score very high on the content for the session with many
positive comments around the materials. I seem to remember that one person
said it was worth suffering through my talk just to get the materials.
It was interesting that my co-presenter scored very low when he needed to
improvise and very high in the more structured session. But we all have our
own strengths and weaknesses. The key is to find the right balance between
them while seeking opportunities to improve our weaknesses.
When I look back to that and the other speeches I have given, there is no
question that I do better when there is less structure and I can improvise more.
In the many times I have done this to date (if I counted it would likely be close
to 100 or more), there were only 2 or 3 times that I completely dazzled the
audience, and in each case I went in cold. In one instance I had less than 5
minutes to prepare for an hour speech.
Over the years I have participated in several public speaking groups and
always look to learn more about how to engage an audience. I set these
techniques into the context of my own personal style, abilities and weaknesses
to look to better my presentation skills.
CHALLENGING THE NORM
The final full night that I spent in Johannesburg everyone else had other plans,
leaving me to find some dinner and figure out what I would do for the rest of the
night. The next day I would finish up my seminar and fly a red-eye to Kenya.
The dinner part seemed easy as the hotel had one of the better casual
restaurants in Johannesburg and I was very hungry.
I went to the entrance and saw that it was very busy and crowded in one
section of the place, with a few empty tables in another section. The Maître d'
told me I had to wait for a table and it could be quite some time. I asked about
the unoccupied tables and he told me that I could not sit there.
Now I am a bit naïve at times, however I understood exactly what he meant
since there were no caucasians sitting in that section. I was hungry and tired and
I suppose I was “wearing” my New York attitude a bit. So I told the Maître d'
that I was taking a specific table and he should send a waiter over to take my
The Maître d' was a bit surprised and didn’t seem to know what to do. He
then sat me down, and though many eyes were looking at me, no one did or said
anything with everyone quickly focusing back to their own dinner. After that a
young white couple took the table across from me.
At the time I never thought about this, but have since thought what if I were
black and sat at a white table? I would imagine that things would have been
different. During that night several other tables in that section were taken by
whites as well so I don’t believe I set any precedent there, but it was interesting
to see how the situation played out and nice to see that it really was a non-event.
However it would have been much better if the same result came from a black
person at a white table.
FARE THEE WELL
It was my final day in South Africa. The seminar was a success overall and
based on the feedback; people receive more value than their expectations. We
delivered the value and I personally gained life experience that was unparalleled
up to that point in my life.
Mike invited us to his home to share a final South African style Braai with
him and his wife and the senior people from his company. My flight was at
10PM and we wrapped up the seminar around 4PM so I had a few hours to
enjoy his hospitality one more time.
A Braai is similar to an American barbeque and in fact the word itself is
Afrikaans for barbeque or roast. I say similar but I suppose it’s almost a cross
between a neighborhood block party and a barbeque. My town hosts something
similar on Memorial Day and 4th of July.
Mike had put his own signature on the traditional Braai, though the social
aspects were certainly the same as this was a very festive gathering and there
was a positive energy in the air, with everyone feeling like we had known each
other for years.
Unlike the traditional Braai, everyone cooked for themselves on Mike’s large
barbeque pit. Mike also had a much more varied menu which included the
traditional meats, but also some high quality seafood like shrimp and lobster
tails. To complement this, Mike had an equally varied selection of vegetables,
salads and sauces. And Mike did not forget my taste for South African wines so
the feast was complete.
Unfortunately for me, the hours past rapidly and I needed to head to the
airport. I was flying El Al airlines, perhaps the strictest airlines when it comes
to security. I wanted to be at the airport with time to spare as I anticipated a
long wait. Little did I know what was in store for me.
I arrived at the airport about 2 hours prior to the scheduled departure, just to
give myself enough time to get through the normal security lines and relax
before boarding. I was flying on El Al airlines, whose reputation on security
The flight was from Johannesburg to Tel Aviv with a stop in Nairobi, which
was my destination. El Al was the only airline with an available flight for me to
take my adventure so the choice was pretty much made for me. I knew that only
flying one leg of a flight with no return will certainly raise a red flag for El Al’s
The security lines were not long so I thought all was well and I would sit
down and catch up on some writing. As I approached the line, there was a
person checking identification and boarding passes. When they came to me, I
was pulled aside and led to a special area for additional checks.
My bags were thoroughly checked and they said I was not allowed any carry
on, and I would not be flying business class. I asked why I was not flying
business class, since it was paid for already. They answered that it did not
matter why and I had to accept it. As far as the difference in money, it was not
I was taken by surprise by this level of customer service, but since El Al has a
reputation of no nonsense and I had no other options for flying I kept my mouth
shut and just thanked them. They did let me bring my backpack with my camera
A middle-aged woman from El Al began to talk to me about my trip, my
plans, etc. It started as pleasant and gradually became less civil questioning and
more aggressive and personal. After about 20 minutes or so it became very
intensive questioning. I remained calm on the outside, but was boiling on the
inside. Too many personal questions being fired at me at an increasing rate.
I continued to answer them without being rude and in fact I tried to counter
her rudeness by being pleasant and extra nice. I suppose that might not have
been the best thing to do, since she continued her questioning. After perhaps
another 20 to 30 minutes I started answering the questions slowly to try to give
myself a break. This clearly appeared to annoy her.
Finally after an hour and a half or so, she let me go to board the plane. Of
course by that time most everyone was already on the plane. The plane was not
at the gate so I needed to walk across the tarmac perhaps a few hundred yards or
so and up the stairs. I found my seat and sat down, completely wiped. I got
comfortable and closed my eyes.
I was not quite asleep at that point when I was called out. A security person
told me to gather my carry-ons and proceed to disembark the plane. When I
went outside the plane, they said they wanted to check my bag again. They did
so, but not very well. I believe that they were also checking the area where I
was sitting in case I left anything behind.
Finally they allowed me back in, I sat down and kept one eye open for a while
with the expectation of more disruptions, but that was the end. I remember the
plane taking off and breathing a sigh of relief.
At that point I was very restless and knew I was not going to fall asleep
MISSION TO ADVENTURE
While on the plane I began talking to several people sitting around me. It
turns out they were missionaries who spent many years working on various
charitable projects in rural areas of Africa. There were about 5 or 6 of them,
ranging from mid 40’s to late 50’s.
We talked a bit about their work and mine. It seems that we were all free
lancers of a sort. They did not work for a specific organization; they worked for
themselves and were brought in by various charities, etc. Organizations would
reach out to them to help out or provide leadership on projects throughout
Africa. They were very happy people with a great sense of self satisfaction
about their life work.
I found them to be quite interesting people but also saw that they focused so
much on their work that it didn’t appear that they added much to their life
Now I don’t want to appear to be negative about them since they certainly
provided a sense of hope to so many people who needed it. But they talked
about their work and their projects and never about the people they met nor
about all of the people they helped. It didn’t appear that they had a personal
connection with the people or organizations they served. After all, their life
work was all about people.
We are all different in that regard. I do admit that most of the time when I get
involved with helping others I am an anonymous face and many times work
behind the scenes and never establish a personal connection.
I do believe that to grow as humans we need to help others in a direct way and
get a better understanding of how others live, what their challenges are and what
their life philosophies are. In that way we obtain a greater understanding of the
world we live in and gain invaluable life experience. Remember that my life
philosophy is that the journey is more important than the end result. Along the
way we also gain an understanding of ourselves.
In any case, I did and still do have great respect and admiration for these
people though one can’t measure their contribution to a better world, but it was
After some time I must have nodded off because when I awoke the plane had
landed and the missionaries had departed. I was extremely disoriented and had
no idea where I was. It was about 4 AM local time.
After five or ten minutes I suddenly realized that the plane was in Nairobi and
I needed to get out before they continued the flight. I quickly gathered my gear
and ran out the door and down the stairs onto the tarmac. The workers looked at
me and realized that I must have been asleep and very late in getting off. They
let me pass and directed me to the terminal.
When I arrived in the Nairobi airport terminal, the first thing I did was to find
a bathroom and burned my transit papers from South Africa. My thought was to
hide the fact that I was in South Africa for a period of time, which would have
stopped my ability to enter Kenya.
It was about 4:30AM when I arrived at customs so I knew that I would likely
pass through immigration with no issues. There were no other flights at that
time and the immigration officials were there only to handle our flight.
While on line I began talking to the missionary people I had met on the plane.
When it was my turn to go through immigration, the officer assumed I was with
the missionary group, stamped my passport and let me through without any
The two bags I had checked were sitting on the ground for quite some time as
they had unloaded the plane before I had woken up. After gathering my bags I
walked to the missionaries and wished them good fortune and they said they
hoped our paths cross again, though I knew that this was not likely.
I do think about them from time to time, though not often. There is no
question that in the process of writing this memoir I revisited this period of my
life and began to think about them more, particularly in the choices they made
and the sacrifices that went along with those choices. Contrasting that with the
choices I made and the minimal sacrifices that went along with my choices.
Looking back at my choices, I certainly have made some small contributions
to humanity through the various things I have done, though not nearly as
personally impacting as these people.
The choices I have made enabled me to have my most cherished life
experience, as a father. That is something that they had not experienced nor
would they likely given the demands of their chosen life work. My hope is that
if I can be the type of dad I’d like to be, my children will have the compassion
instilled in them to make a positive contribution and pass that along to their
children, and all our future generations.
SHOW ME THE WAY
After we departed company, I walked to the meet and greet area to look for
my contacts. At that time of the morning it should not be difficult since few
people were around. And I was right since only two people were in the area,
one who was a very physically fit individual in his mid-40’s, the other was a bit
younger, larger, perhaps 250 pounds or more and about my height (5’9”).
My assumption was the larger man was my primary contact with the
physically fit man being my guide. To my surprise I was quite wrong about that
My guide’s western name was James Monday, though his Maasai name was
Oleksedu. I had read much about the Maasai people and had certain images in
my head, none of which fit James. My initial reaction was, well he’s a good guy
but if things don’t go smoothly then we are history.
The three of us went over the details of the trip, the areas I wanted to see, etc.
I also began asking questions about what we were bringing, the condition of the
vehicle, etc. I guess you are probably thinking, nice time to ask. Well they had
nothing except a new Range Rover that was modified for off road conditions. I
had the compass, maps, Swiss army and bowie knifes.
I kept thinking about the recommendations I received in hiring this company
just so I could feel a bit more comfortable about this trip.
We bid farewell to the James’ manager and walked to the car. It was about
5:30AM or so and I asked James if he would like to eat breakfast or just start out
now. A dumb question for sure as sunrise was much later and it was not safe to
travel at this point. James told me that we will eat at the hotel, however the
hotel is locked from about 1AM until 7AM and no one can enter.
James and I rode in the car for a bit to find a place to hang out until the hotel
opened. We pulled over next to a city park and began talking.
James was much more westernized and lived a very comfortable life style in
the suburbs of Nairobi. He was married and had a small son, showed me some
pictures of them along with his house. He was very proud of his lifestyle since
he made an honest living and was able to work for himself for the most part and
owned a home unlike many others he knew.
James certainly was not shy and was quick to offer his life’s philosophy.
Cooperation was the key to life he said. He pointed out how cooperation
between cultures can lead to great things.
We spoke at length about his experiences as a guide, meeting so many people,
primarily from Europe and always in large groups. I was a bit of an anomaly to
him as I was not part of a group and traveled alone. He told me that many
people we will meet over the next few days will wonder about me, some will get
very nervous since I might be someone “important” or a great adventurer.
That certainly made me laugh quite a bit since I don’t fit either category. In
any case, the word was out that he was assigned to take me out into the wild and
when he returns he will be overwhelmed with people who want to know about
the trip. By the look in his face and eyes, he was already enjoying the extra
As we spoke, it was very difficult to keep my eyes open. James appeared to
be fully awake and very energetic. He was chewing on what looked like a small
branch or twig. He called it Mittamu (though I believe the common name is
Soumpou) and did not want to share it, even though he had a large amount of it.
I found out later that it is an herb of sorts that it used in dental hygiene and is
sometimes used for an energy boost.
Around 7AM we headed to my hotel and found that it had just unlocked the
front door. The hotel was the Nairobi Serena, probably one of the best in Kenya
if not the best. As I walked into the lobby I felt a sense of comfort with the
décor warm, yet elegant.
I told James that I had arranged for the hotel to keep most of my luggage until
I return and that he should get a table for us and I would treat him to breakfast.
He was a bit surprised since guides are generally shown to a different dining
area, but I was more interested in continuing our conversation. So I asked the
hotel manager to make an exception so we could sit together and he was
Breakfast was very good and a bit different than what I was used to in NY.
Fruit and plain cakes were the primary foods along with fruit juice and of course
very freshly roasted Kenyan coffee. Interesting to me was the lack of orange
juice and the use of tomato juice along with passion and pineapple. The cakes
were very tasty, lightly sprinkled with sugar, so it was not overly sweet. They
were not served with any sauces but were moist enough to eat plain. As I would
find out, this would be my breakfast menu for the next several days.
THE TRIP TO THE WILD
After breakfast we headed out for what would be a long trip. After an hour or
so we were on the only road heading toward the Tanzania border. It was
desolate for the most part; on occasion we would see a few giraffe or some
zebra. There were several road blocks along the way, James talked to them,
showed our papers and we were off again.
Along the 100 miles there were several stores where merchants sold a variety
of souvenirs and refreshments. I felt bad since most of the items being sold
were very poorly made and didn’t seem to sell well. The merchants sent out
their salespeople, Maasai women who were rude and very pushy. Needless to
say I didn’t buy anything other than some bottle water for James and I.
Our last stop was in a village called Namanga. When I was there, Namanga
was a small village on the border between Kenya and Tanzania. I’ve heard from
others that since then the entire area has become more populated and larger,
primarily due to a substantial increase in the tourism business.
Since Namanga was larger than the previous places and had a very active
marketplace, I gave James some money to buy himself some bottled water and
told him I wanted to walk around a bit. Again most the shops had nothing of
interest so I kept walking.
The marketplace was interesting and the art of bartering was in full force. It
was interesting to see the dynamics of people interacting in trade here as there
were quite a number of European tourists mixed with Maasai and other
Kenyans. In some ways it reminded me of a cross between the way Delancy
Street in New York used to be and the Hunt’s Point market in New York.
As I was just about at the end of the marketplace I saw a shop that was
different and had some different items. I decided to take a look and went in.
The shop owner introduced himself to me. His name was Mos, though most
westerners called him Moses.
Mos and I began talking a bit, and the more we talked the more interesting the
conversation was. Mos had been to America on one occasion but preferred to
live here as his shop did very well and he felt he lived like a king. He had land,
a house, a thriving business and he was the most respected merchant.
Mos was very interested in my stories and journeys, mostly the ones about
America. He was also curious on why I choose to travel alone with a guide
rather than with a large tour. I told him about my desire to explore and
experience the area rather than just drive around looking at wildlife.
At one point I noticed that Mos’ shop was becoming rather crowded with
curious on lookers. Mos told me that the word was out that a “VIP” was in town
and of course Mos was hosting him. Mos and I began to laugh and at one point
Mos’ chair fell over with him in it. Looking back it seems that perhaps Mos
invented the concept of ROFL.
At some point the crowd seemed to part and I saw why. It seems like those
European tourists wanted to see why everyone was here. Mos rose to welcome
them and apologize for not being a better host.
The tourists looked at me with a bit of curiosity, so I gave Mos a wink and
began to setup Mos with some questions about his items, their origin, etc. Mos
rose to the occasion with a polished sales pitch, no doubt a welcome relief to the
tourists from the other aggressive salespeople around the marketplace.
Everyone walked away with at least a couple of items.
When everyone left, Mos thanked me and apologized for keeping me from
starting my adventure. I said, but my adventure has started and thanks to him I
have a new story to tell. Mos smiled, we said farewell and I promised to stop by
before I went home.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
James and I found each other and he was not surprised that I spent so much
time with Mos. We walked back to the car and started the last and hardest part
of the journey.
As we left the road we were still able to receive the radio station for a bit
longer. As we began to make our way across the African plains I heard a
familiar guitar riff. It was Slash ripping through the opening of “Welcome to
I had arrived.
THE MAGIC LAKE
James was an insane driver. We were heading off road at about 60 miles per
hour to make up for lost time. If you have ever been off road driving you would
know that a car becomes extremely unstable at a certain point and at 60 mph it
was not if something bad will happen, but when it will happen.
I convinced James to slow down, especially since I am not on a timetable and
am very attached to my limbs. He laughed a bit and said that we could drive at a
safe speed and still cut some time if we took a short cut over the lake. I said the
last time that was done it was Moses. James laughed again and said it’s a magic
James proceeded to explain that the lake always recedes when traffic needs to
cross and fills again after the traffic passes. This would save us many miles and
Now of course this was an optical illusion and as we approached the area of
the lake, sure enough it appeared to be filled with water and very large. As we
got closer it appeared to recede and when I looked back it reappeared just as it
had been. Very cool effect. The area was a lake at one time which had dried up,
and will never likely reappear.
As we continued our drive I saw many random and isolated fires. James
explained that this time of year was particularly dry and the intensity of the sun
cause spontaneous fires in some of the vegetation. Since the growth of
vegetation was sparse, it never amounted to anything other than a few burning
bushes in the plains.
James also talked about how things change this time of year. Yes it is dry,
however we are entering the outlet of the Great Mountain so each spring, the
snows of Kilimanjaro would melt and the run off would create streams and areas
that were lush with exotic flowers and small wildlife.
This is what I wanted to see. Experiencing nature in transition is always
amazing and certainly in this part of the world it would be like none other.
James knew the area well and said he would take me to many places where I
could see this and where I will be able to hike.
My body felt cold at this suggestion with the memory of the lioness still fresh
in my thoughts. I dropped the subject and it was quiet for quite some time after
MY TEMPORARY HOME
We arrived safely at our camp just about time for lunch. James introduced me
to the camp manager (whose name escapes me) and began to walk away to join
other guides. I asked about this and the manager told me that this was the rule.
I decided to check out my hut, get cleaned up and head for lunch.
The hut was very simple, really just a wooden structure with a single room. It
did have a desk and a small bed with a mosquito net covering the bed.
Everything was very clean and the bed was comfortable.
As I walked around the area I noticed that the main building was located a
few hundred yards from a small pond that much of the wildlife used as a
watering hole. It appeared to be fed by an underground spring and the
surrounding area was lush, full of spring flowers and a nice variety of small
birds. I took some pictures but unfortunately they did not develop (remember I
was using a film camera).
Lunch was a buffet as I found all meals were. The food was prepared very
simply yet everything was fresh and quite tasty. Lunch consisted of some dry
meats and cheeses with freshly baked bread and vegetables. Drinks were bottled
water, elephant beer or freshly roasted Kenya AA coffee. Simple, tasty and
Up until that day I did not drink coffee and the only coffee I had ever tasted
was one that was locked in a can and sold on a grocery shelf about 6 months
after roasting. I did have freshly ground espresso once at Pike’s market in
Seattle from a small specialty coffee shop (who is not so small anymore).
Outside of that one espresso, I never liked coffee so I never drank it. That day
changed my attitude about coffee.
I asked a server what kind of coffee it was. He said Kenyan of course! I said,
no I mean what brand, like Chock full of Nuts so I asked to see the can it came
in. He looked at me and said he didn’t understand as the beans were picked not
far from where we were and roasted a day or so ago, then delivered to them in a
large sack. They received deliveries about twice a week from the coffee
That opened my eyes for sure and I don’t mean the caffeine! If there was ever
an OMG moment around coffee that was it. It was acidic but not bitter, bold on
the palate and smooth going down. I found it had similar characteristics of a
fine red wine, perhaps like a cabernet in it’s fully body.
I saw my manager walking around and decided to ask him if he would like to
join me for a drink and some casual conversation. He accepted and we walked
outside and sat on some rocks and began talking. Over the course of my time
there, I spoke to him frequently and learned more about life in that part of the
He worked at the camp three or four days a week but lived with his wife and
children in Nairobi. He enjoyed his life very much and particularly enjoyed
being around people. He liked to hear about other parts of the world and he also
liked to tell stories about life in the wild. Sounded familiar to me.
We spoke a bit about my plans to explore and he provided me with an idea of
the challenges and what some safety tips. The black mamba snake would
certainly be something to be wary of, and of course the larger game. There was
a particularly nasty Rhino who was very territorial about the area near the Snipe
River, but it was an area that was worth visiting.
We then began to talk about the poaching problem that had been devastating
the elephant population in Kenya. Over the course of the last couple of years,
governments around the world worked to minimize and ultimately eliminate the
demand for ivory. This effectively ended the world market for ivory and
without demand, the mass slaughter was history.
In 1989, with the ivory trade disappearing, the poachers turned to other
sources of revenue. Unfortunately the easiest source of revenue was the
growing tourist population. They began to “poach” people. The Kenyan
government began a practice of having armed game wardens sit in each vehicle
of the tour, in the front passenger seat.
About two weeks prior to me arriving there, this poaching of people resulted
in an American woman being killed. The poacher’s method was to drive close
to a tour and begin to shoot at the front passenger seat. The idea was to disable
or kill the game warden so there would be no resistance. Unfortunately the
woman was sitting in the front seat and was struck by the spray of bullets and
was killed instantly.
Around the same time George Adamson (who with his wife wrote “Born
Free”) was also killed by Somali poachers.
I decided to sit in the back of our vehicle for the time we spent in the wild.
Fortunately we did not run into any poachers.
After some time James joined us. It was mid afternoon by then and it was
time to spend a few hours exploring.
THE WARMTH OF A MOTHERS SMILE
During that afternoon I was hiking around in a fairly isolated place and came
across a family of about 4 adults and 3 or 4 kids, varying from a toddler to teens.
A nice family, very close knit with a matriarch heading the family with what
appeared to be her offspring and their young ones.
They lived in the area and were out for a walk, perhaps gathering some food
along the way. I did not want to disturb them, but did get close since I was
curious about the family structure and interactions between the younger ones
and the older ones.
They acknowledged my presence with a brief look, but continue to go about
their ways, never feeling threaten by me, nor at any time did I feel any danger
As I was standing there, the toddler began to walk closer to me. The mother
gently came over and stood between me and the toddler and looked at the
toddler with that warm loving sort of look that every mother gives her child.
She then led the child away as I took a picture.
The picture I took was of an elephant family, taken in southern Kenya, close
to the Tanzania border and in the heart of Maasailand. Observing this family
interact with each other was an amazing experience. The bonding between the
family members proved to me that in many ways, these majestic beasts were not
so different from us, and in fact were not beasts at all.
CROSSING THE LINE
The next day I decided that I wanted to spend the entire day exploring the
southeastern part of Kenya, closest to Mt Kilimanjaro. I was especially
interested in seeing flowers, birds and small animals that tend to stay near the
lush areas created by the run-offs.
I was up long before sunrise since I wanted to see the sun slowly climb above
Kilimanjaro. I grabbed some breakfast and a nice hot cup of coffee and sat
myself on a rock to watch the show. It did not disappoint.
As the sun began its ascent in the sky the mighty mountain appeared to be
covered with a blanket that was a dark hue of purple with its snow covered peak
glowing in an ethereal pink. The mountain smiled in response to the warmth of
the new day, filling my heart with the thrill and optimism that I get with the
dawn of a new adventure. This was going to be a great day.
James and I sat down and mapped out our route so we knew pretty much
where we were going, but more importantly how to get back to camp. It was
interesting to see how James approached this exercise, especially in comparing
against my methods. James relied heavily on other guides, but refused to
interact with the local Maasai people.
I thought that it would have been good to speak to the locals, just to assess the
current conditions of the land. I was unable to do so as I knew only about 100
or so words in their language which was good enough for exchanging
pleasantries and perhaps some casual directions, but not more than that.
So we would rely on more of an analytical approach. Both James and I used
the relative positioning of various landmarks, including Mt Kilimanjaro to guide
us. This had served me very well in many of my trips in the past particularly
when hiking alone or leading others. However in this area it was a great
challenge to me as much of the horizon was flat with nothing more than large
I used my map and compass to augment the landmark method as I did not feel
comfortable with relying on making the first left turn past the large termite hill
on the right. I had the feeling that several vultures that were close by were
hoping we take a wrong turn.
James and I made our final preparations, checked our gear and headed off for
the day. The land was an amazing contrast. It was almost like a fusion of
climatic zones with miles of stark, barren land synthesized with lush, almost
I felt so fortunate that I was able to be there at this time of year where in some
places the melting snows created a temporary oasis out of the normally arid
land. These lush areas were teaming with flowers, baboons, many species of
birds and an occasional wildebeest, African buffalo and zebra. This raised an
alarm with me as the area also would be idea for lions and cheetah. But I also
knew that the African buffalo is perhaps the most dangerous of the Big Five
Game so I decided to stay inside the car most of the time, venturing out only for
a quick picture or two.
Along the way we found that many of the trails we followed were washed out
due to local flooding. We spent quite a bit of time negotiating dead ends and
backtracking, but it didn’t matter since it was amazing just being there.
At one point we ran into a dead end that we decided to not backtrack and tried
to go around by a different route. This took us quite a long way south but came
across some hyenas and a group of elephants. I took some pictures and when we
were ready to leave we saw the first sign of other humans since we left camp
many hours prior.
It was a jeep with several armed people coming toward us, in a slow,
deliberate fashion. It certainly did not appear to be “poachers” as their weapons
were old as was their vehicle.
As it turns out we had crossed into Tanzania and these were park rangers who
patrol the border. James got out of the car and explained our situation. After
some time James came back and we left with a warning to cross back over and
told not to return.
It was getting late so we decided to make our way back to the camp. It was
not hard to pick up the trail back and made it back just in time to get washed up
and enjoy yet another very tasty meal.
THE SNIPE RIVER
THE TRIP BACK TO CIVILIZATION
It was shortly after lunch that James let me know that it was time to leave. I
gathered up my gear and went to say my farewells and thank the camp manager.
I walked around, said my goodbyes and then found the manager. I mentioned it
was time for me to get back to Nairobi and wanted to thank him. As it turned
out he was heading back as well and I offered to take him back with us, and he
James had no issues with bring the manager back to the city. We packed our
gear and began the journey back. The weather was good, a bit overcast and
some winds were kicking up.
As we were driving I spotted what I thought were termite hills in the distance,
but they appeared to be moving. I was convinced I was losing it or just very
tired, so I ignored it. After 10 or 15 minutes I again saw these “moving” termite
hills. This time I asked James if I was going crazy, which made him laugh hard.
James began by telling me that what I saw was the “devil weed”. I seemed to
remember that term from the days of watching anti-drug movies in high school,
though that was certainly something a bit different.
The manager explained that this was a phenomenon in this area when
conditions were right the winds would create these mini-cyclones. The Maasai
people called them “Wasimu Upepo” or Ghost Wind, while they are also known
as “ngoma cia aka” in some parts of Kenya.
He began to tell me a legend about this phenomenon when on the road ahead
there was what looked like a family walking in the middle of the dirt road. This
was very odd considering it was probably 50 or 60 miles from the nearest town
(Namanga). I asked James to pull over to find out what they were doing out
here, they didn’t have any survival gear and didn’t appear to have much food or
water. James resisted but the manager agreed that we should, so he did.
We stopped the car and got out.
James, the manager and the eldest male began speaking. I tried to listen,
however I did not recognize any words and therefore the context was lost on me.
They were not speaking Swahili, but perhaps a dialect or some local language of
the Maasai people.
The discussion was getting fairly heated at one point. James and the manager
were arguing quite a bit. At that point I decided to step in and interrupt or
perhaps mediate. The manager explained to me that this family is walking to
Namanga and he suggested that they come with us, if that was ok with me.
Before I could say anything James stepped in and said absolutely not. They
could not come with us. I asked why not, but James would not elaborate. I
turned to the manager and asked him to find out more about where and why they
Apparently they are going to Namanga and will try to get transportation to
Nairobi to join the rest of their family. With that I said, “Well then they can
travel to Nairobi with us”. James was visibly agitated at that suggestion. I
mentioned to James that I had contracted him and his car for my bidding and
besides I had the keys to the car.
So we all got into the car. I rode in the front passenger seat with all my gear,
while everyone else packed into the back. It was a tight squeeze for all of us,
but at least they didn’t need to risk walking across areas where lions roam and
water is scarce.
Along the way back we briefly stopped at Namanga and I hung out with Mos
again for a bit, told him a few stories. After wishing him good health we
traveled back to Nairobi where we dropped the family and the manager at a local
As we were saying goodbye, the manager told me that this family was
apparently banished from their tribe for some reason. They have family in
Nairobi and decided to stay with them and that is why they were walking.
According to their customs, neither James nor he was allowed to help them since
they were both of Maasai decent, and it was none of my business so I was not
supposed to help them either. I guess I can understand James’ rationale for not
wanting to help them, but he did eventually step up and agree because it was the
right thing to do. I never did find out why they were banished.
We arrived at my hotel late afternoon and as I walked into the lobby people
were staring at me. I then realized I was covered in dirt from the trip back and
was in need of a nice long bath. I sent my clothes to be cleaned and relaxed in
the bath for quite some time.
My flight back was at 3AM so I was scheduled to have dinner, relax a bit at
the hotel and then head for the airport around 1:30AM or so. Dinner was at
Carnivore, a well known restaurant in Nairobi famous for its exotic game dishes.
In recent years the restaurant has changed quite a bit. I understand that they
no longer serve many of the exotic game as when I was there. They never
served endangered animals, but were know to have giraffe, zebra and gazelle on
Upon arriving there I was greeted by an attractive woman Maître d', who was
several inches taller than me, perhaps she was 6’1 or so. We began walking to
my table and she explained how the meal would be prepared, the various sauces
and of course what the specials were that day. She was very articulate and had
the grace and style that you would expect from a Maître d' at a fine European
As we were walking she took me past an amazing site. It was a visually
stunning open pit of fire with a dazzling array of succulent meats hanging on
skewers made of traditional Maasai swords. There was no need for a menu at
that point; I wanted to taste them all.
As I sat down the Maître d' did mention that they offered a vegetarian
alternative if I so desired. The broad grin on my face certainly made my answer
to that question quite clear.
Today would be beef (in the form of sausage and sliced), chicken prepared a
variety of ways, pork (both sausage and loin), leg of lamb, gazelle and crocodile.
Earlier selections including giraffe and ostrich were no longer available for the
As it turns out there were no menus. Dinner began with soup and brown
bread, both were tasty. After a server brought out several types of salads and
vegetables along with about 6 different sauces. Then the procession began, that
is the procession of the meat carvers. Servers walked around with the skewers
of meat, carving as much as you liked onto a hot steel plate, recommending the
appropriate sauce to accompany the selection.
The chicken was interesting as in addition to wings, they severed both tikka
and yakitori. Tikka is a south Asian dish, though the style they served was from
northern India, marinated with spices and yogurt and then barbequed in the pit.
The yakitori is a Japanese dish, usually grilled and served on a bamboo stick.
The tikka was much better.
Some of the meats were a bit tough, in particular the gazelle. On the other
hand, the crocodile was and still is the best meat I have ever tasted. It was juicy,
melting in my mouth and an after taste that was unbeatable. I could probably
write several paragraphs about the taste, but enough said, it was great.
When I had enough food, I carried on the Carnivore traditional of lowering
the white flag. Each table has a small white flag that you lower when you’ve
had enough. Coffee was equal to the meal, the desert was not memorable.
After the meal James drove me back to the hotel where I slept briefly and
packed for the long journey home.
I checked out of the hotel and found James in the lobby. We made our way to
the car and drove to the airport, which was quite busy considering it was around
1:30AM or so. The airport traffic was chaotic so I offered to have James drop
me just close enough to walk safely to departures. This way he would not be
stuck in the traffic mess.
James and I said our goodbyes and I gave him a tip that was close to what he
earns in a month. Looking back and this experience I did misjudge James quite
a bit in the beginning. He certainly knew his way around as a guide and
certainly made sure the experienced was all I could have imagined.
In the end I came to respect James as my guide and certainly as a good
person. In many ways he was one of the best guides I ever met along my
journeys. When I look back at some of times I acted as I guide, I was probably
better at survival but quite honestly as a guide I was never as personable and
warm as James. And that made all the difference in making this one awesome
But the journey was not over. I still had about 18 hours worth of flying, back
through London and finally to New York. Getting through security was insane
even though there were little to no checking of anything, just mass chaos. I had
also heard about developing countries and their airports so I just sort of
meditated while standing there for about an hour or so.
Eventually I got through, bought some gifts and boarded the plane. I fell
asleep for a few hours with that same Poison tune playing on the plane
When I woke up we were passing over Southern Italy. Unfortunately I
missed so much scenery as it was an amazingly clear day for flying. After a
little while the pilot announced we were about to fly over the Alps. I have so
many great memories of trekking and climbing in the Alps so I was certainly
looking forward to seeing them from 30 thousand feet.
The pilot announced to the right is the Matterhorn and to the left is Mt. Blanc.
Both peaks are quite amazing to see from the ground and the sight from above is
no less spectacular.
The plane became a bit chaotic as people went from one side to another,
taking pictures and staring in awe at the majestic peaks. I did not have film left
from my trip, but I will always have the memories.
Quite a few hours later I finally landed back in New York. It was the journey
of a lifetime for me. To be quite honest the only thing better than this trip in my
life was the birth of my two beautiful girls and now getting to watch them grow
up into wonderful young ladies. Of course that journey continues and will only